As we know, climate change is happening and we are the primary cause of this problem due to our emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs). These gases consist of anything that traps solar radiation in our atmosphere such as: carbon dioxide, methane, ozone and fluorocarbons. There are several factors to consider when looking into this issue, and the big picture is certainly overwhelming. The good news is, all of these factors can be reduced if not prevented all together. This is not something that can be done overnight, and it certainly isn’t going to be easy. Therefore, it is crucial for America, and the rest of the world, to accept that we are causing climate change, take a closer look into how and to be progressive in our approach to resolving it. We cannot afford to slow down or, even worse, move backwards. The current cutting and revoking of regulations that we have in place to protect our environment are reason for grave concern.
The burning of fossil fuel is the obvious “bad guy” and takes most of the heat, as it should, with this global concern. Another major factor effecting climate change is deforestation. It may not be making the headlines or the lead story on the nightly news, but deforestation is a serious issue that deserves just as much of a discussion as does fossil fuels.
The Importance of Trees
Forests are diverse ecosystems that effect almost every species on the planet in one way or another. The degradation of these forests can set off a chain of events that have a horrific impact both locally as well as globally.
First and foremost, trees remove carbon dioxide from the air. The absorption of GHGs from our atmosphere is obviously an extremely important part of resolving the issue of climate change. Fewer trees and smaller forests equate to an increase in GHGs being released into the atmosphere. Consequently, the cutting of trees is increasing the speed and severity of climate change. Deforestation currently accounts for 25% of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Trees provide a protective canopy for our forests. The forest ground is moist and provides the necessary ecosystem for many plant and animal life to survive. The canopy also maintains suitable temperatures by blocking the sun’s rays during the day and trapping heat at night. Removing this canopy through the process of clear cutting allows the sun’s rays to dry the earth out making it unsuitable for the plant and animal life that relies on that protection. It also creates extreme changes in temperature which is obviously detrimental to sustaining certain forms of life. 80% of land animals and plant life are found in our forests, many of which are not able to survive deforestation. Not only are we eliminating suitable environment for this life, but we are disrupting the balance between predator and prey. Reducing these habitats, specifically through the suburban sprawl, has dramatically increased deer and other prey species populations. This directly correlates to the rampant increase in tick populations and the epidemic of Lyme disease. The loss of habitat is also leading to the extinction of species in certain parts of the world.
Trees also play a major role in the water cycle, specifically through the process of transpiration. Transpiration is the process in which water is carried through plants from the roots to small pores on the underside of leaves where it changes to water vapor and is then released into the atmosphere. A simpler way to put this is the evaporation of water from plant leaves. Even the slightest changes to water vapor dramatically disrupts natural weather patterns and changes current climate models.
Deforestation has a direct negative impact on soil erosion. The roots of trees anchor the soil holding it in place. Without trees the ground dries and is free to blow or wash away with nothing to anchor it. Soil erosion also correlates to poor water quality. As the soil runs off, increased amounts of silt enter our streams, rivers and lakes degrading water quality and contributing to poor health conditions in certain communities.
Why Deforestation is Taking Place
As we have discussed in previous posts, wildfires are becoming increasingly frequent due to climate change. According to the U.S. Forest Service, each year an average of 73,000 wildfires occur burning about 7 million acres of land. Each year we are seeing a significant increase in the longevity of the fire season with larger fires, more acres burned on average and more extreme fire behavior. This is due to a number of factors, but primarily due to climate change. Climate change is exacerbating the issue of wildfires which are killing more trees, and therefore, resulting in even more carbon dioxide warming our planet. Talk about a vicious cycle!
Agriculture is certainly a major driver of deforestation. Forests are cut to create more land for growing crops and grazing animals. This aspect alone is a huge contributor to climate change on multiple levels and will be the focus of a discussion in the near future.
Of course, the logging industry is a huge part of the problem, especially those that are acting illegally. Logging operations cut countless trees every year to supply the world’s wood and paper products. Obviously this is an essential part of life, and you’re not going to find me chained to any trees. In fact, one of my fly fishing heroes, Alex “Xenie” Hall, has cut his fair share of trees as a firewood salesman. I want to be Xenie (watch Low and Clear if you haven’t done so already)! However, massive clear cutting operations are of grave concern. Years of cutting at will has dramatically reduced the amount of forests worldwide disrupting wildlife habitat and the water cycle, exacerbating soil erosion and worst of all increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We need to find ways to move away from clear cutting huge areas of old growth, and being more tactful in regards to the locations these operations take place. We live in a consumer world and a throwaway society. We need to check ourselves as consumers. Finding ways to repurpose our wood and paper products will go a long way in reducing the problem of deforestation, and earn us good stewardship bonus points!
A lot of people, myself included, think that simply replanting trees through the process of reforestation will solve the problem. It will certainly help lessen the impact of deforestation, but it won’t totally solve it. Reforestation will help restore the ecosystem services provided by our forests, but some species have been too badly effected and may not recover. Basically, the practice of reforestation must accompany any form of deforestation and we must make ethical decisions in regards to what trees are being cut as well as the locations in which we are harvesting them.
This is a Fly Fishing Blog, Right?
Climate change is already effecting the lifestyle that we know and love. The specific issue of deforestation might be a little harder to see firsthand, but it definitely plays a big part in climate change. There are certain locations that are seeing an even more immediate impact of deforestation on fly fishing, specifically in Maine. We are Pennsylvania boys with a special place in our hearts for Maine. We have been fishing in Maine’s backcountry for the past ten years and I plan on fishing Maine every year until the day I die. As you can imagine, we spend a lot of time on the famous Rapid River, but in recent years it hasn’t been fishable during our trip due to unseasonably warm waters (this trip takes place sometime between the end of May and the middle of June). There are a lot of factors contributing to brook trout dropping back into the cooler water of the lake earlier and earlier, but some of Maine’s most respected anglers and guides point the finger at deforestation as being a major part of the problem. I’m no expert and I don’t know too much about the logging business, but their explanation certainly makes sense. They explained that, as the logging business cuts more and more acreage of forest each year, specifically the areas near the lakes and tributaries that feed these rivers, they are removing huge sections of the forests protective canopy. This allows the sun to warmup the feeder streams and lakes resulting in the rivers to warming up early sending the brook trout to the cooler waters at the bottom of the lakes. In addition to this, deforestation is causing the once moist forest floor to dry up and also prevents the water table from ever becoming fully saturated. Throw this on top of the broader issue of climate change and we have a real problem.
We as fly fishermen are already seeing the effects of climate change. Now more than ever we must educate ourselves about all things that play a part in this issue. That includes topics such as fossil fuels, deforestation, agriculture, and most of all politics. We need to do our research and spread the word. We need to find out where our politicians stand on the issue of climate change and where their priorities are placed. We need to vote. When our land, environment and wellbeing are threatened, we must stand up to our elected officials and make our voices heard. We have seen this first hand during the first week of February, when Representative Jason Chaffetz pushed bill H.R. 621. This bill put our public lands at risk of being sold off and privatized. The immediate, and relentless response by outdoorsmen across America was awesome to see. We made our voices heard, and Mr. Chaffetz quickly responded by withdrawing the bill. This validates how important it is for us to use our platforms, whether that be an Instagram account, blog or whatever soap box you might have to spread the word and help the cause. It was awesome to see this unfold and I hope that we all continue to stand up to protect what’s ours. My continued concern, however, is the threat of climate change. This issue is the BIGGEST threat to our land, and it is my hope and prayer that we can unite, despite political affiliation, and protect whats ours.
If you missed Part 1 and 2 of this important issue, please click the links below:
Bradford, Alina. “Deforestation: Facts, Causes & Effects.” LiveScience. Purch, 4 Mar. 2015. Web. 02 Feb. 2017.
“Causes of Climate Change.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, 27 Dec. 2016. Web. 02 Feb. 2017.
“Deforestation and Its Effect on the Planet.” And Its Effect on the Planet. N.p., 29 Jan. 2017. Web. 02 Feb. 2017.
Lee, Kevin. “The Effects of Deforestation in the Northeast U.S.” Education – Seattle PI. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Feb. 2017.
MacMillan, Amanda. “Global Warming 101.” NRDC. N.p., 21 Dec. 2016. Web. 02 Feb. 2017.
“SEE Innovation.” Research.gov – SEE Innovation – Social Scientist Tackles Deforestation in Maine. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Feb. 2017.
“The Water Cylce.” NASA. NASA, n.d. Web. 02 Feb. 2017.
“Transpiration – The Water Cycle.” Transpiration – The Water Cycle, from USGS Water-Science School. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Feb. 2017.
“Wildland Fire.” Wildland Fire | US Forest Service. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Feb. 2017.