In an article earlier this month, the Pacific Standard reported that deforestation in southern Africa is occurring at a rate five times higher than previous estimates.
While deforestation is often associated with tropical rainforests, the new findings from the southern regions of Africa serve as a grim reminder that habitat loss can occur anywhere people roam. The satellite images used to measure the lost woodlands revealed that other habitat types have been lost as well, specifically wooded savannas. This combined habitat degradation accounted for a carbon loss six times higher than previous estimates.
There are a few explanations as to why earlier estimates were so inaccurate. One problem comes from how deforestation is measured. Scientists monitor and measure the spread and recession of green space in satellite images, tracking how large or small patches of growth are each year. This technique works well for rainforests in the tropics but becomes more complicated and imprecise in regions like southern Africa. In the affected habitats, rainy and dry seasons turn forests from green to brown. Monitoring the color is even more complicated because grasslands intermingle with wooded areas to create indistinguishable shades of green.
While the loss of rainforest habitats is old news, the loss of other biomes can remind citizens everywhere that the fight to protect the natural environment is still far from over.
Unsurprisingly, the highest rates of deforestation occurred in densely populated areas. The main loss of forest comes from people in the region harvesting wood and charcoal for heating purposes.
Luckily, the research team believes that the region can recover quickly with the help of local communities. Adopting more sustainable charcoal harvesting practices is essential, and change must happen before the forest is completely gone. Once trees are entirely removed, forestland is much more difficult to regrow.
While the deforestation problem in southern Africa can seem distant to some readers, there are still steps families and workplaces can take to reduce deforestation worldwide.
If the story of southern Africa’s woodlands and savannas have reminded you that your current lifestyle could use an eco-friendly makeover, here are a few steps Mother Nature Network says you can take to do better for the sake of the trees worldwide:
- Plant a tree (or many trees)
- Go paperless whenever possible
- Recycle paper and cardboard; buy recycled paper products
- Look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification on all wood products you purchase and use
- Eat less meat
Greenpeace also recommends voting and holding corporations accountable. Finally, reducing waste is an absolutely essential step to combating deforestation. After all, StopWaste.org estimates that 17% of everything printed in the modern office is considered waste.
When it comes to protecting the trees, simply using and buying less non-essential items can make a huge difference.