Date palm plantation

African oil palm plantation where jungle stood scant years before.

“Deforestation” is clearing trees and vegetation to use land for other, non-forest uses, such as agriculture, ranching, or urban development. In Central America and Mexico, deforestation happens for agricultural use both by “big agriculture”—including African oil palm and pineapple plantations—and by subsistence farmers practicing slash and burn agriculture. Other pressures include logging, industrial-scale mining, and other extractive practices, as well as forest fires (more than 90 percent in the region are caused by people).

Regardless of the reasons, loss of forest is a serious problem because of the many benefits healthy and intact forests provide for people and other species. For example, globally forests account for 31 percent of the earth’s total land area and serve as habitat to over 80 percent of the world’s land species, including plants, animals, birds, insects, reptiles, and amphibians. Forests, especially tropical ones like those of Central America and Mexico, also play a significant role in offsetting climate change and its impacts because carbon is a basic building block of trees and plants; as forests thrive, they act as “carbon sinks,” or places where carbon is stored, thus preventing it from entering the atmosphere and making climate change worse. Healthy forests also offset some of the impacts of severe weather by reducing the strength of damaging winds and absorbing heavy rains. Forests protect watersheds, stabilizing the local water cycle and providing drinking water for local communities. They also convert carbon dioxide to oxygen and clean the air we breathe. In addition, forests, especially in the tropics, are places where new technologies, medicines and materials are being discovered regularly.

Wood removal from Toto forestIn recent years, Central America has experienced some of the highest rates of deforestation worldwide, losing 19.1 percent of its forest cover between 1990 and 2000. EcoLogic works with local communities that live in or depend on these forests to help them find sustainable ways to protect and restore these forest ecosystems. We help communities build tree nurseries, reforest degraded areas, demarcate and manage their watersheds, and adopt sustainable agriculture practices like agroforestry (planting food crops along with beneficial trees). Through our forest guardians program, we provide training in all these practices and more to volunteers who then patrol the forests and teach their friends and neighbors stewardship practices. We train and provide materials to communities so they can build and maintain fuel-efficient wood stoves that reduce pressure on the trees nearby.