How Can We Conserve our Forests?

In light of our rapidly changing climate and increasingly at-risk ecosystems, deforestation as an issue has come to center stage. The largest threats to forests today are:

  • Agriculture
  • Logging
  • Urbanization
  • Forest fires

We know forest conservation is incredibly important to all living species on the planet, but why? How exactly do deforestation and forest habitat loss harm plants, animals, and humans? Let’s look at the effects of deforestation on two broad scales: 

  • Locally, deforestation causes erosion, flooding, desertification, and habitat destruction leading to a drop in biodiversity and abundance of important species.
  • Globally, deforestation causes increased greenhouse gases, accelerated climate change, and a drop in global biodiversity.

To stop deforestation worldwide, we need to implement conservation on every scale available to us. In this article, we will discuss necessary conservation steps at the following levels:

Before we get started, though, let’s define natural conservation. 

  • Conservation is the protection of natural resources by preventing the destruction of species, maintaining habitats, and protecting biodiversity.

International Conservation

International forest conservation is the largest scale we will look at. At a scale this big, any organizations, laws, or agreements are often difficult for countries to adhere to because they cannot be enforced by a global entity. Plenty of international organizations have attempted with varying degrees of success to gain the support of all countries worldwide including:

  • The Biodiversity Convention: a treaty agreed to by 196 countries aimed at conserving biological diversity worldwide in part by stopping deforestation. 
  • The Climate Change Convention: a United Nations convention signed by 165 countries aimed at decreasing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Forests: a United Nations convention promoting conservation and sustainable forest management.

While these agreements and many others have been introduced by international organizations and signed by most countries of the world, they have failed to slow deforestation. Because of these failures, conservationists recommend pursuing a single international forest law that requires: 

  • Sustainable forest management
  • Reforestation initiatives
  • Prevention of illegal logging

It has been difficult to enforce any type of forest law internationally, so some conservationists claim that initiatives on the national level could be more efficient in slowing deforestation, let’s see what that scale looks like now.

National Conservation

For this article, we can focus on forest conservation in the United States. While the model of forest conservation in the United States is not ideal, it provides a starting point for the necessary organizations and laws that countries may need to protect their forests.

Of the federal organizations dedicated to forest conservation, the United States Forest Service (USFS) is by far the largest, let’s now go more in-depth on what this organization does and how it is helpful for conservation on a national level.

United States Forest Service

The United States Forest Service is a division of the USDA, so it is federally controlled and funded. The forest service manages and protects 193 million acres of forested land in the United States. Since 1905, the mission of the USFS has included:

  • Protecting, managing, and improving forested lands
  • Acquiring new, protected land
  • Fighting wildfires
  • Creating accessible recreation opportunities
  • Researching ecosystems and forest management practices

Along with the help of dozens of laws, the United States forest service can provide protection and maintenance to millions of acres of forested land. The land is public and is aimed to be accessible to anyone wishing to visit.

The USFS is a great example of a national entity that, when given sufficient funds, can enforce laws and rules in a way that can conserve our forests. However, laws at a national level cannot cover the needs of each local community, which is why these laws are necessary in conjunction with community participation in forest management.

Municipal and Community Conservation

Though on a much smaller scale than national, local conservation efforts are one of the most important ways to combat deforestation because the small scale allows community members and scientists to directly interact with their ecosystems to inform local governments and assist in conservation.

Local Conservation Scientists

Conservation on a local scale includes the work of scientists working for the local municipality. The science may be funded by the local parks system, the USFS, or a college or university. Conservation scientists work at a local scale to:

  • Survey the local forest
  • Analyze invasive species
  • Assess forest fire risk
  • Test soil and water quality

The information gathered and analyzed by scientists allows the local government to create policies that assist in local conservation.

Civic Conservation

While laws can be helpful, those living in the community are directly impacted by their surrounding forests and have knowledge and experience with the ecosystem they live in. Community forestry is not the main scale used in the United States, but it is seen through some of the following practices:

  • Community tree planting initiatives
  • Citizen science ecological research
  • Civic engagement to influence policies that affect local forests

Civic conservation should be used in conjunction with scientific research and policy-making to create changes and improve forest conditions on a local level

Individual Conservation: How You Can Conserve our Forests

Along with getting involved in the above practices of community forestry, you can take initiative on your own to protect forests worldwide by taking the following steps:

  • Stay educated: If you’re reading this article, you’re already on the right track. Keep up to date with the latest news about global deforestation, research about forest sustainability, and why forest conservation is so important. Most importantly, travel to the forest as often as you can.
  • Spread the word: Share your knowledge with friends and family. The more support we have for forest conservation, the more the movement will be taken seriously.
  • Be a conscious consumer: Products like palm oil, beef, and soy have been shown to negatively impact tropical forests. Try to opt for more sustainable products. It also may be helpful to shop for forest-friendly products, like those certified by the Rainforest Alliance and the Forest Stewardship Council.
  • Plant trees: Get involved with your local community organizations that plant trees, or if you can, even planting trees in your backyard is a great start.
  • Support conservation organizations: Forest conservation is not easy, nor cheap, but the work these organizations do is incredibly important. Find an organization you think is doing great work and send them a donation, or share to social media encouraging your friends to donate.

Key Takeaways…

  • Worldwide forest conservation is an increasingly important issue that requires research, policies, and engagement at every scale available, from international to individual.
  • International conservation efforts require global cooperation and agreement on basic principles of forest management.
  • National conservation in the United States has focused on creating policies and giving funding to the United States Forest Service so that millions of acres of forested land can be managed and protected.
  • Local conservation includes both scientific research and management as well as community engagement with local forests.
  • At an individual level, you can help conserve our forests by staying engaged, connecting with conservation organizations, practicing conscious consumption, and spreading the word about the importance of conservation.