Forest degradation occurs when forests lose their ability to provide essential goods and services to people and nature itself. This means the quality reduction and decrease of the condition of a forest, this being related to various ecosystem components of a forest ecosystem such as soil and vegetation layers, to diverse interactions between these components and their functioning. Due to several natural and human-induced driving forces, forest degradation presents a variety of impacts that needs to be effectively addressed. The major impacts of forest degradation are soil erosion, greenhouse gas emissions, loss of biodiversity, and the disruption of the water cycle. Due to this, governments, communities, and individuals of Pacific Island nations may adopt strategies such as forest restoration, logging bans, establishing protected forest areas, and using sustainable logging methods, to reduce the widespread ramifications of forest degradation.
Soil erosion is the wearing down of the forest’s topsoil by natural physical forces such as wind and water and human-induced driving forces of deforestation such as the construction of logging roads. (Ritter, J, 2012). Once plant roots are removed to a great extent, there are no roots to stabilize the soil during heavy rain, which then washes away the top soil and the nutrients within it. This then leads to widespread impacts on forests and marine ecosystems. In Kolombangara, the Solomon Islands, large sediments have been deposited into waterways and rivers due to soil erosion caused by logging roads that have deep tire marks which erode at a rapid rate during rain. This saturates the waterways with excess nutrients, affecting the turbidity and the PH levels of the waterways. This ultimately affects the trophic structure of these ecosystems. Therefore, soil erosion is a serious impact on forest degradation.
Agricultural land clearing (forest degradation) can accelerate the emission of greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases (e.g. Carbon dioxide) are heat-absorbing gasses that trap the heat within the earth’s atmosphere, causing the climate to heat up. Apart from producing oxygen and water, trees are absorbents of carbon dioxide, which absorb 2.4 billion tonnes per year (IUCN, 2017). Whilst forests are not degraded, they function as efficient greenhouse gas filters. But, as soon as they are degraded, the remaining levels of carbon dioxide left in their trunks and leaves are then released into the atmosphere; contributing to at least 30% of greenhouse gas emissions each year (Johnson, T.2019.Council on Foreign Relations.). This then affects organisms such as plants, humans, and animals and contributes significantly to the increased possibility of the occurrence of natural disasters due to the warming of the climate. Thus, the alarming rate of forest degradation has impacted the dynamics of the climate, due to its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.
Thirdly, over-logging of forests may induce the loss of biodiversity which means vulnerable species may face the possibility of extinction. According to WWF experts, ‘the rapid loss of species we are seeing is estimated to be between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate’. When forests are being degraded and destructed, habitats of certain organisms are being destroyed and therefore, their population may decrease. This affects the feeding relationship between organisms (Johnson, S. Scienciing. 2019). For example, if species like frogs are wiped out, it may affect the population of predators such as the endangered kingfisher bird (see the figure who relies on frogs as a source of food. This is because each part of an ecosystem is dependent on other parts and if an organism dies, then it may have far-reaching ramifications on the trophic structure (food web) of the forest ecosystem. Therefore, loss of biodiversity is a major impact of overlogging.
Lastly, increased land clearing for mining may induce the disruption of the water cycle. Evapotranspiration is an element of the water cycle that refers to the ability of trees to extract moisture from the ground and release it into the atmosphere, thus, contributing to precipitation across nearby ecosystems. Forests also possess the ability to retain moisture from precipitation, allowing discharge into waterways. However, when 13 million hectares of trees are being removed for certain purposes per annum (Carbon Footprint, 2018), the forests’ ability to store water and release water into the atmosphere is destroyed. This means forests may experience reduces rainfall causing forests to be barren and dry. (Pearce, F. 2019, Yale Environment 360). This then hinders the water cycle process and therefore, proves conditions for natural disasters like bushfires and drought to take place. Not only that, but it also provides conditions that affect the living conditions of organisms. Therefore, the disruption of the water cycle is a major impact on forest degradation.
Four Strategies Pacific Islands could adopt to minimize and stop Forest Degradation
Forest restoration could help Pacific Island counties reverse the effects of intensive logging, in order to regain the environmental and ecological benefits of the forests. This strategy aims to unite individuals, communities, and governments to work interdependently to identify the most appropriate restoration method within the forest landscapes. This strategy should not only encompass the replanting of trees but also, activities such as erosion control, agroforestry, and forest regeneration. Forest restoration should address the underlying factors that drive the issues to become prevalent within these Pacific Island countries. For example, in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands, communities and individuals have been working to regenerate their degraded forests through small-scale reforestation of logged forests with local and exotic tree species to maximize and increase the availability and sustainability of forest products and services in the future. This is due to the Province having the most tree cover loss than other Islands. Therefore, forest restoration is an appropriate strategy other Pacific Island should implement.
Secondly, the implementation of logging bans is an effective strategy that Pacific Islanders could adopt to reduce the unstainable logging operation and to maintain the forests’ biodiversity. This is a strategy that promotes the preservation and conservation of forests for future generations through the establishment of policies and legislations, aimed at reducing forest degrading activities such as logging that have been operating at an unstainable rate. These bans have been exemplified by the Solomon Islands already, ‘where logging has been operating at a rate 19 times of what is considered sustainable’, according to B. Yein (Cannon, J. 2018. Pacific Standard.). In Central Province (Solomon Islands), the provincial government, alongside community elders and individuals has implemented bans on granting business licenses to logging companies who are aiming to operate within their geographical jurisdiction (Cannon, J, 2018, Mongaby.). Therefore, this is a strategy that other Pacific Island nations should adopt, to reduce the impacts of forest degradation.
Thirdly, Pacific Islands may respond to tendencies for intensive agricultural clearing through the establishment of forest-protected areas. Communities and individuals must comply with this strategy in order for it to be effective in its intent. Such a strategy may attribute immensely to the reduction of detrimental ecological, social, cultural, and economic impacts that are aligned with forest degradation. For example, in Malaita Province, Solomon Islands, a group of community members have implemented a greenbelt throughout the Are Are and Kwaio regions called the Ma’asina Greenbelt Initiative to prevent unsustainable uses of the forest(Radio New Zealand, 2018). This strategy could be adopted by governments, communities, and individuals of Pacific Countries to reduce, and minimize agricultural clearing.
Lastly, local Pacific Island loggers should practice appropriate and sustainable logging techniques to reduce driving forces of forest degradation such as logging. Locals, e.g. in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, who are normally operators of bulldozers and cutting machines, should use appropriate logging techniques, to reduce collateral damage to the forests. These techniques allow loggers Pacific Islander loggers to fall and extract trees in a way that does not damage other tree species. Logging companies and government institutions should implement country-wide initiatives, to advocate and teach local communities and loggers about sustainable methodologies for cutting trees. If this is adopted by Pacific Islanders, it may reduce the widespread impacts of forest degradation.
In conclusion, one can now fully understand and comprehend the impacts of forest degradation such as soil erosion, loss of biodiversity, Greenhouse Gas emissions, and the disruption of the water cycle in regional contexts. However, there are strategies such as forest regeneration, logging bans, protected forest areas, and sustainable logging methods which can be adopted by regional countries to reduce, and minimize the impacts of forest degradation. Nevertheless, it is still necessary to be worried about consuming and being part of the forces that destroy forests in the Pacific.