Article #1: Tropical Rain Forests: Earth’s Green Belt
Left in peace, rain forests would ring the Equator with vegetation wherever days are hot and precipitation is high. But farming, ranching, logging, mining, and roads have greatly reduced their actual range.
In central Africa and Amazonia huge tracts remain largely untouched, but rain forests have been virtually eliminated from most parts of West Africa, southern Asia, and the Caribbean.
In 1980 the U.S. National Academy of Sciences estimated annual loss at 20 million hectares (50 million acres). The World Wildlife Fund speaks of 25 to 50 acres a minute. A 1982 study by two United Nations agencies reported 7.5 million hectares lost each year.
Estimates vary so widely largely because of different criteria. To biologists, loss means either conversion of primary forest—say, to agriculture, pasture, or tree plantations—or modification, implying biological impoverishment through selective logging or shifting cultivation. To foresters, loss means deforestation—the removal of all tress.
A world survey of rain forest status appears below.
Earth’s largest rain forest little disturbed except for fringes of southern Amazonia and areas in the east. Small chance of major losses in the west for the near future.
Vast area covered by undisturbed Amazon forest. Farm settlement expected to become more extensive in next decade or two.
About one-third forested, mostly in Amazon region, some along Pacific coast. Efforts to colonize have been slowed.
Large tract in south barely touched. Smaller areas in north heavily cut, converted to ranches and farms.
Most of population lives along coast. Little threat to forest.
Virgin rain forest covers most of country, much protected by parks and reserves.
Large forests along Pacific already gone, oil exploration and agriculture encroach on Ecuadorian Amazonia.
Population lives along coast. Little pressure on undisturbed forest of interior.
Not much exploitation of forests yet. But government has begun roads, farming, and ranching.
Most island forests long ago reduced to remnants after heavy exploitation by dense populations. Small tracts survive, for example, in the
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO, and PUERTO RICO, where a U.S. national forest protects 104 square kilometers.
Shifting cultivators, timber harvesters, and cattle ranchers encroach on the country’s last rain forest area on the southern border with Guatemala.
A strong trend toward cattle ranching on this highly-populated isthmus has greatly reduced primary forests, now believed to be two-thirds removed. Small areas found in the Peten region of northeastern GUATEMALA, the Mosquitia Forest of eastern HONDURAS, parts of eastern NICARAGUA, southern BELIZE, the national parks of COSTA RICA. and much of PANAMA.
Patches of forest along the western Ghats and on Andaman lslands disrupted by landless poor, forest farmers, and logging.
Narrow belt of rain forest in Chittagong region heavily exploited by hill tribes.
Small tract on southwestern and central parts, largely disrupted by logging and slash-and-burn farmers.
Holds Africa’s largest rain forest (nearly one-tenth world total), parts of it now secondary growth. Some clearing by slash-and-burn farmers in south, but vast areas still undamaged by mainly rural population.
Almost entirely forested, with exploitation just beginning.
Extensive disruption of large forest areas—especially in the southwest—by timber companies and slash-and-burn farmers.
Forests in remote northern and central regions still undisturbed. Some logging in south.
More than 70 percent of primary forest at turn of century now cleared. Rest may be gone within a decade. Timber harvesting intense. Forest farming increasing rapidly.
Very little primary rain forest left due to shifting cultivation.
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
Rainforests in south. Little pressure from small population.
Most forest disrupted by dense population and a century of logging. Small areas remaining in south expected to be exploited soon.
Very few forest areas undisturbed by cultivators.
Almost totally forested. Little loss expected.
Little or no virgin forest remains. About half removed during last 25 years by forest farmers. Remnants found in the southwest.
Small area still covered with rain forest in the southwest. BENIN About three-fourths of original forests left, but heavily disrupted due to strong pressure of growing population.
Small rain forest concentrated in north.
Much slash-and-burn farming. Only fragment of eastern rain forest still survives.
Rain forests along southern coast largely disturbed, though a few areas are protected.
Contains largest rain forest in Asia (nearly one-tenth world total), but much harvested already. Log production multiplied sixfold during 1960s and 1970s. Farmers and transmigrant settlers also eliminating large forest areas.
About two-thirds of lowland forests on peninsula heavily logged, converted to oil palm, rubber plantations. Large forests
on Borneo also being harvested.
PAPUA NEW GUINEA
Largely covered by undisturbed rain forest, much inaccessible to logging companies. Full-forest harvesting under way in small areas on north coast. Half of population forest farmers.
Large timber companies harvesting remaining rain forests, less than a third of what existed 30 years ago. Clearing by rural poor also severe.
Mostly covered by rain forest, much undisturbed. Revenues from oil taxes take pressure off timber cutting as source of foreign exchange.
Only pockets of forest survive in Indochina, mainly in southernmost THAILAND, lower BURMA, southern KAMPUCHEA, and parts of the Mekong Plain in VIETNAM.
Fragments of primary forest remain along east coast of Queensland. Other lowland forests heavily cut for timber, sugar plantations, mining interests, and dairy farms.
Rain forests found on southeastern side of FIJI. Major areas allocated to timber companies. About three-fourths of SOLOMON ISLANDS also forested, most in terrain too steep to harvest.