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Although some countries and communities are working hard to find ways of preserving and improving their forests and make a living from them, there are further threats to forests world-wide.
In 1997/8, fire devastated huge areas of Brazil, Indonesia, Venezuela, Guyana, Colombia, Mexico, Kenya, China, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Brunei. Some were accidental: poor logging management left open spaces with twigs, leaves and small branches drying out in the hot sun, or fires set to clear land got out of control. Others were probably deliberate: by plantation owners wanting to drive out small farmers or local people acting in revenge for being kept out of their traditional forests. The extreme weather conditions of those years made the problem worse, but fire has been an increasing hazard for many years.
Large areas of tropical American rainforest have been cleared for cattle ranching; the beef produced in Brazil is mostly for the domestic market, but much from Central America goes to the USA. In the past, ranchers have been given Government grants to convert forest to pasture. When the grass is planted, everything is fine for a few years. However, the soil starts to dry out, the grass gets thinner, non-edible weeds spread, and, without the rotting of leaves and twigs on the ground, the nutrients in the soil are not replenished. Although some ranches are being replanted with new grasses, many are abandoned and the ranchers move on and cut down more forest. It is hard for the forest to regrow because the abandoned areas are so large, seeds from the surrounding forest are not carried there.
Oil, natural gas and certain minerals are plentiful in some forest areas. They might be used within a country or exported to gain foreign currency. However, it is very difficult to extract them without environmental damage. In the Siberian taiga forests, huge areas have been ruined by leaking oil pipelines; bauxite mining in Guyana has left scars in the forest landscape and gold mining in the Amazon has caused river pollution. Such projects often create disagreement in the local communities: some (often the men) are in favour because of the jobs created; others (often the women) are more concerned about the forest destruction.
As well as the damage caused to woodlands by the hundreds of millions of ordinary people who use wood as their day-to-day fuel, rainforest trees are sometimes used for industry. In Brazil, huge areas of forest are being felled and not replanted to provide fuel to smelt iron ore, which is then sold to the European car industry.
Hydroelectric dams on rainforest rivers produce power for both industry and domestic consumers. Although hydroelectricity can replace the burning of trees as fuel, the dams themselves cause lakes which flood vast areas of forest. The proposed Bakun Dam in Sarawak, Malaysia, will involve flooding an area the size of Singapore.
picture of a Hydroelectric dam
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This site is funded by DFID and has been produced by the World Land Trust.