The impact of deforestation on peatlands

Peatlands cover about 3 percent of the earth’s land surface. They play vital roles in the global environment. These roles include acting as a natural ‘carbon sink’, holding a third of the total volume of the world’s carbon dioxide. These wetlands also assist in alleviating the risk of fires. Peatlands also provide a crucial platform for biodiversity. They are also a tourism hub, as they provide habitat for an impressive variety of plants and animals. Bogs also provide vital protection for the global water supply system while providing a source of food and other land-based products. Even from this brief overview, the importance of these resources cannot be overemphasized.

Even with the importance and benefits of peatlands visible, these zones have suffered considerable damage over the years. About 14 percent of the world’s bogs have been destroyed as a direct result of human activity. This significantly affects the effectiveness of these regions as well as directly resulting in increased release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The main types of exercise causing this destruction has been burning and draining of mires. Another related activity has also caused degradation of bogs. This destruction has been responsible for more than a tenth of the total global emissions released from the continued burning of fossil fuels. A majority of these emissions – two thirds – come from Southeast Asia. Indonesia is the country leading to carbon emissions.

The restoration of these lands is necessary. Deforestation has been a strategy adopted to help restore these key zones. The leading causes of deforestation so far have been;

  • Agriculture and livestock ranching. The need for more farming or grazing land has directly resulted in the large-scale felling of trees
  • Construction. With an increase in population, forests have been cut to accommodate these additional numbers
  • Logging. This activity has been done with the aim of providing the raw material for industries
  • Climate change. Changes in climate have seen the capacity of areas to support forest cover reduce.
  • Mining. The need to mine for ore and other precious minerals dictates that clearance of the mining area is necessary, leading to less forest cover.

Despite the well-known effects of deforestation in other regions, the felling of trees in wetlands has been verified as a way of actually making them wetter. The reduction of forest cover in peatlands is aimed at boosting the region’s capability as a wildlife habitat as well as the protection of soil carbon stocks.

The effect of deforestation is two-tiered. There is the impact of felling trees has a different effect depending on the location, whether on or off peatlands. Off wetland setups, deforestation will mostly hurt bogs. This effect is brought about by the way lessened forest cover facilitates global warming. There has been a consistent rise in global temperatures. The increased temperatures have resulted in increased evaporation levels. When wetlands are subjected to these temperatures, considerable damage is suffered, and the overall benefit to the environment that these bogs offer is significantly reduced. It is, therefore, crucial to note that forest cover in areas outside peatlands needs maintenance as tree felling in these regions has a direct adverse effect on mires.

Forests have been confirmed to keep carbon emissions in check. Analysis from The Nature Conservancy among others estimates that 7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions can annually be removed, and this can only be done through forest restoration, curbing improper forestry practices and keeping logging activity. The conservation of forests is essential so that this excess presence of carbon in the atmosphere remains manageable. Additional carbon in the atmosphere means that there will subsequently be an extra load on peatlands in the containment of this carbon dioxide. In essence, the more forest cover we have outside wetlands, the less carbon we have in the atmosphere.

Deforestation has proven to be a critical cause of rainfall in many regions. Lack of a forest cover. Logging and other tree-felling activities in tropical rainforests, for instance, has been established to be a direct cause of reduced precipitation in these zones. A drop in rainfall levels will directly affect rain-fed peatlands negatively. With less water, these areas will shrink, causing a smaller habitat for plant and animal life in the bogs. This reduced size also means that the capacity of the affected peatlands to absorb carbon will significantly drop. A lesser extent also says that animals in these regions will host increased numbers of wildlife or strain for space and resources over time.

Lesser forest cover will also directly affect the presence as well as the size of rein-fed peatlands. This dependency on rainfall makes bogs reliant on the amount of precipitation, even though they are an essential element in the global water supply system. The frequency of occurrence and the size of peatlands is directly proportional to the capacity of these wetlands to check carbon levels in the atmosphere. As such, all mechanisms that directly affect the amount of annual rainfall are essential.

Forest cover has a relatively different effect on the peatlands themselves. The presence of trees in forested mires ensures that there is cover helps in maintaining the moisture content and controls the levels of humidity in such wetlands. The removal of this canopy exposes the floor to the elements, resulting in increased evaporation due to direct exposure to the sun and wind. Re-vegetation of bogs is guaranteed to augment the region’s capacity to support plant and animal life. In this aspect, forested mires need a certain amount of tree cover to maximize their effect on the environment.

In select peatlands, deforestation is a means of restoration. This approach has been adopted because research has shown that the catchment capacity of the region increases, making the wetlands even wetter. This improved catchment is because trees consume considerable amounts of water through their roots. The absorbed water then subsequently ends up in the atmosphere through the leaves. In this unorthodox approach, reduction of tree cover in wetlands could be an ingenious strategy of restoring peatlands.

It is clear that the forest cover in areas outside peatlands offer a crucial support system for the existence of these zones, and should be protected and maintained at all costs. The controlled reduction of tree cover in certain bogs could also prove beneficial to these wetlands.