Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Burning of Rain Forests
Name: amj
Status: Other
Age: N/A
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: N/A 


Question:
Why are the rain forests being burnt?



Replies:
I understand that the rain forests are being burnt in order to provide short term farm/grazing land for squatters. By short term I mean that the burnt land provides a farming/grazing resource only for a few years and then it cannot be used anymore. It takes decades for the forest growth to return to the burned area, while all the other places are being burned out to provide another year or two of useful land.

Woodford


Good question. There are many reasons. Woodford responded that it is for n short term farm/grazing land for squatters". It is true that rain forests are being burnt for farming and grazing land. This practice has been common for thousands of years and is not necessarily harmful. Small groups of indigenous people can survive indefinitely by clearing and burning a small area, planting a garden, and then moving on after a few years when the soil fertility declines to the point where plants do not grow well. These small plots cultivated by "swidden" horticulturists recover to original wild vegetation within a few years, and are not a threat to the long-term viability of the rain forest ecosystem.

However, the last few decades have seen a different kind of "slash-and-burn" agriculture taking place: commercial cattle herders will clear huge tracts of forest in order to allow grasses and shrubs to grow for animal fodder. The cattle are grazed for a few years and then taken to market and sold for a profit. The practice is very profitable because forest land is cheap, and sometimes governments of tropical countries just give it away. However, tropical soils are very poor and cannot sustain growth for more than a few years without the rain forest cover to recycle nutrients rapidly. When a large area is cleared, the wild forest around the edges cannot reclaim the whole area very quickly so large clearings take longer to recover than small plots. If all the wild forest is cleared, the land may never again be productive.

Don Libby



Click here to return to the Environmental Science

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (help@newton.dep.anl.gov), or at Argonne's Educational Programs

NEWTON AND ASK A SCIENTIST
Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory