Deforestation, by definition, is the action of clearing a wide area of trees. The process of removing trees primarily occurs in rainforests, such as the Amazon basin. Sixteen continental countries of Latin America together contain 57 percent of the world’s tropical rainforests (Browder 123). Major effects of deforestation include, the loss of habitats and species, soil erosion, land degradation, sedimentation and flooding, and a drying climate.
The dominant and direct causes of deforestation include the expansion of commercial agriculture, cattle ranching, and the building of roads and dams. Together, the effects of these are culpable for the irreversible and immense deterioration of the forest.
The growing presence of commercial agriculture, the extensive production of crops intended to be sold at a global level, is another forthright cause of deforestation. SOFO [The State of the World’s Forests 2016] notes that commercial agriculture generated almost 70% of deforestation in Latin America between 2000-2010, (FAO). The actions of extensive grazing and functioning plantations of soy and palm oil are some of the driving forces behind the great expansion of deforestation. With the global demand for crops being sold internationally, such as soy and palm oil, becoming increasingly preeminent, the need for more farmland is necessary, therefore resulting in more land degradation.
Additionally, the expansion of land being destroyed for the purpose of cattle ranching is a major factor in the land degradation in Latin America. In fact, it is the leading and largest factor contributing to the destruction of the Amazon basin, responsible for approximately two-thirds of the destruction. Cattle ranchers must burn the land in order to produce and prepare pastures for their cattle. As the need for beef continues to increase, both in the region and in other areas of the world, more land is necessary to raise cattle, thus adding to the burgeoning eradication. In a study conducted by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the expansion of pastures caused the loss of at least one-third of the forests in six of the countries analyzed, (FAO).
The expansion of roads being built throughout the Amazon, while intended to provide more effective ways of commute, is doing more damage than help to the region. In the Amazon basin, 7,500 kilometers of new highways are being built to cut through the area. These highways are designed for the use of directly connecting the timber and agricultural exports of the basin to other nations of the Pacific Rim. These roads are becoming an impediment to the wildlife. Studies have shown that even narrow (30 meter-wide), unpaved roads drastically reduce or halt local movements for scores of forest bird species, (Laurance). According to Laurance, approximately 95 percent of deforestation occurs within 50-kilometers of highways or roads. Paved roads produce more of a threat to wildlife than unpaved. Year-round access is unrestricted, unlike that of unpaved roads where the annual wet season tends to render the roads unpassable.
Furthermore, Brazil has begun to build numerous dams in the Amazon basin. With little regard to the environment or the indigenous people, the building of the dams has been driven by the agricultural and industrial interests. As the reservoirs inevitably flood, not only are the forests being destroyed, the communities that live near the dams are displaced, forcing them to start their lives over in a new area. Often when relocating they must start their farms again, resulting in more land deterioration. They cycle of flooding and relocation is one of deadly consequences, that is irreversible As Fearnside states, if the dams continue to be built at the alarming high-speed velocity, the Brazil will essentially take all of the major free-flowing Amazon tributaries east of the Madeira River in effect, half of the Amazon basin and turn them into continuous chains of reservoirs.
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