Forests are often used as a source for useful materials or natural resources. Materials found in forests such as the wood of timber trees are very useful as building materials. Timber is commonly used to construct furniture, make paper and construct buildings. Other examples woods used for building materials are wood from the changal and meranti trees in tropical rainforests which is used to manufacture furniture. In Indonesia alone, more than SGD$8 billion was earned from the sale of timber. This shows that the demand for timber and such building materials found in forests are very high and that many of these companies who sell timber profit, leading to economic growth. However, the high demand for wood such as timber results in heavy logging which affects the environment negatively in many ways. An example would be Kalimantan, Indonesia where excessive logging has resulted in west Kalimantan losing an average of 2656 square kilometers of forest each year. Kalimantan is home to more than 380 bird species and 10000 plant species. Due to logging, the biodiversity of plants and animals are reduced because their natural habitats are destroyed and they have fewer resources to live on when trees are logged. This could potentially lead to the extinction of animal species that are already endangered and rare. With heavy logging, there is also a decrease in the amount of nutrients in the soil. The removal of trees results in less biomass to decompose into leaf litter and this affects the nutrient cycle as the decrease in soil nutrients is only able to support only a small biomass. Soil is leached because the roots, which once prevented nutrients from being removed by soil erosion is no longer present. Due to the lack of interception, infiltration is also reduced and the soil becomes too infertile to support more vegetation. The last negative effect of logging is the changes in quantity and quality of water. When trees are removed, less transpiration takes place and this leads to the reduced formation of clouds and low rainfall. As mentioned, soil erodes easily when the roots are absent. The soil that is deposited on the river bed makes the river bed shallower and reduces the river’s ability to contain water. Hence, the likelihood of flooding which can cause great destruction to both the forests and it’s inhabitants is higher. The soil washed away into these rivers also increase the sediment level of the rivers which changes the water’s pH level, making the water acidic and poisonous to animals who drink from the river.
Another use of forests is a habitat for people. Many forests have provided a habitat for many people to live in and approximately 60 million people live in the tropical rainforests of South America, Southeast Asia and Africa. Some of these people are hunter gatherers who source for food and hunt animals in these forests. They are not independent on farming and are fully dependent on the forest’s natural resources. Living in the forest has many perks for these people as they can usually survive by feeding off the forest’s natural resources which can be regenerated. However, many of these residents living in forests are shifting cultivators who grow crops. Needing space for farming usually requires not only the few huts that hunter gatherers need but a big plot of land within the forest. Therefore, this leads to forest land being cleared by burning. This has all the same negative impacts mentioned in the previous paragraph except the environmental and health impacts from burning is worse than logging. There will be bad air pollution as burning forests cause dust and smoke to be suspended in the air. This results in haze and the small harmful chemical particles can cause people to suffer from health problems. This also adds on to global warming and is not environmental friendly as it is harmful to the planet earth. It could also potentially affect the tourism industry by deterring tourists to come because of the bad air pollution. This can lead to a very negative economic consequence.
Tourism and using forests for recreation is another way that people are using forests. Many countries with tropical rainforests promote the construction of bridges and paths so that tourists can go hiking or camping. They also encourage ecotourism where the natural environment is sustained. Tourists only engage in activities which do not harm the environment such as hiking, camping, rafting or bird watching. For example, Taman Negara in Peninsula Malaysia was established as a national park in 1939 to protect its rainforest and is now a destination for ecotourism. Tourists can enjoy nature while the forests are protected and income is gained from ecotourism. This results in only positive environmental and economic: the environment is not harmed and there is profit gained. Another positive impact would be that city-dwellers can experience nature for themselves and learn to appreciate forests and to respect the environment around them.
The last way in which forests are used is for research and development. Scientists study forests and the numerous plant and animal species within it to develop many things which are useful to mankind such as medicine and crops like banana, coffee and cocoa which need to be cultivated in the rainforests. Scientists also study the interactions between forest animals and plants with the environment. For example, they study how changes in weather affect animals and plants in the forest ecosystem and this knowledge enables scientists to better understand how humans are also affected by changes to the ecosystem. Since research does not harm the wildlife, plants or environment within the forest, it again only brings positive impacts. Many useful medicines that have been found in forests are used to treat illnesses. Many forests provides a food source for all of us and since scientists are able to understand the relationship between humans and the ecosystem, they will be able to tell us whether changes in ecosystems affect us negatively and how we can prevent these negative impacts.
The uses for forests are numerous, with some impacting the environment and us negatively and some impacting positively. It is important to remember that forest should be sustained so that there will not be a loss of benefits and discoveries. The future of our forests depends on how this the humans on earth now can try their best to protect it from harm so that generations to come can reap its’ benefits and wildlife can also thrive.