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Deforestation: Definition, Causes & Consequences

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  • 0:06 The World's Forests
  • 1:01 Deforestation and Clearcutting
  • 2:04 Causes of Deforestation
  • 3:49 Consequences of Deforestation
  • 5:43 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Deforestation is the clearing of trees without the intent of replacing them or reestablishing a stand of trees. Learn reasons for deforestation and discover the consequences of this process in all forests, including tropical forests.

The World's Forests

Forests mean different things to different people. Outdoorsmen and nature lovers appreciate them for their recreational value. Those in the timber industry appreciate them for their economic value, and many critters and plants call the forests and tropical forests home. For humans, animals and biologically diverse plants, forests provide raw materials and habitats that are vital to sustainable life. However, forests can easily be taken for granted and become a casualty of civilization.

If the human population continues to aggressively clear forests to exploit their natural resources or make room for progress, the benefits of this important ecosystem could be lost. In this lesson, we will look at the causes of deforestation and discuss some of the consequences of this process.

Deforestation and Clearcutting

Deforestation is the cutting down of trees from an area with no intention of establishing a future stand of trees. Deforestation can meet some human needs. For example, wood is considered to be a natural energy source, and it has been used for years to provide heat. Logging removes trees from a forest, so they can be turned into building materials for homes or used in manufacturing processes, such as the production of paper products.

Deforestation is sometimes used synonymously with the term clearcutting. However, clearcutting is not necessarily the clearing of trees without concern for future growth. Clearcutting can be defined as the cutting down of most trees with the intention of replanting or establishing a future stand of trees. When done properly, clearcutting can be an efficient and economically sound method of harvesting. It can also open up spaces, allowing sun-loving tree species to thrive, which can improve the quality and growth of future forests.

Causes of Deforestation

We already mentioned that one of the causes of deforestation is harvesting natural resources through logging. Wood is a valuable raw material in construction or manufacturing, and the practice of logging prepares the trees for those purposes.

However, forests are often cleared because those in charge of the woodland want to use the area for a different purpose. This is seen in all types of forests and all over the world, but arguably the most devastated forest areas are in the tropics. Tropical forests are forests that span both sides of the Equator, and they are the most diverse ecosystems on the planet.

In tropical forests, as well as forests farther away from the Equator, one of the main causes of deforestation is to make room for agriculture. Whether the farming is by individuals who wish to grow only enough food for their own use or performed commercially, agriculture is often cited as the leading cause of deforestation. Cattle ranching is another cause of deforestation. Much like farmers, cattle ranchers clear forests to make room for grazing cattle.

Another cause of deforestation is mining. Tropical forests are the location of many deposits of minerals and metals, including diamonds, oil, aluminum and gold. The forests are removed to extract these materials from the ground. Dams that are constructed for hydroelectric power plants are another reason for deforestation. When the dams are built, they flood large areas of forest, destroying the trees.

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