Soil Degradation and Deforestation in the United States
by Sarah Ganly
The United States is a beautiful country that is home to many different species of plants, insects, and animals. The United States is also the home to many people and industries, but in the United States only "15.8%" of the land is protected (World Resources Institute, 2006).As recorded by the World Resource Institute (2006), in the United States as of 2003, 443 of the 22,661 species in the United States are threatened. The population is constantly increasing, and this in turn causes consumer demand to increase. When consumer demand increases industry grows, and the environment in the United States suffers. Growth of industry has led to the decline of forests; growth of industry has also led to an increased rate of soil degradation. Soil degradation and deforestation are both main contributors to the loss of biodiversity in the United States. Without biodiversity one must wonder whether or not man will be able to sustain itself. Severe soil degradation and deforestation in the United States is caused by human activities, but there are ways to start resolving these issues for the benefit of all.
Soil degradation in the United States is a serious threat, and the root causes of this danger are human activities in this country such as agriculture. In the United States it is estimated that soil erosion is costing about "$44 billion a year in damage to farmland, waterways, infrastructure, and health" (Kaiser & Proffitt, 2004, p. 7 ). It is also predicted that if farmers did not replace the lost water and nutrients, "U.S. crop yields would drop 8% per year" (Kaiser & Proffitt, 2004, p.7 ). Agriculture is an important part of life in the United States. Agriculture should be treated with respect to the environment instead of being destructive to the environment. Soil degradation naturally occurs from water and wind, but poor agriculture methods are the main cause of this problem in the United States. One of the main problems with agriculture in the United States is the practice of "sowing crops without fertilizers season after season" (Kaiser & Proffitt, 2004, p.5 ). This practice causes the soil to be drained of all its nutrients, and in turn this causes the soil to be less and less fertile. Another problem with agriculture is poor irrigation methods. These methods cause a chemical imbalance in the soil. When the land is improperly irrigated an increased amount of groundwater occurs, and this causes salinization. Salinization occurs when the soil becomes oversaturated with salt; this causes the land to become infertile (Kaiser & Proffitt, 2004). Poor methods of agriculture are a leading cause of soil degradation in the United States, but with improved farming methods the harmful impact agriculture causes can be lessened.
Deforestation is another environmental threat in the United States. "831 square miles" of forest in the United States has been lost from 2000 through 2005 (Butler, 2007, para. 2). The forest lost is considered the older forests which contain the highest amount of animal and plant species. The United States was found to have the "seventh largest annual loss of primary forests in the world (Butler, 2007, para.1). According to Butler (2007), the United States ranks the worst on annual forest loss for wealthy countries. Although the older or primary forests have been lost in the United States, some new forest plantations and growth from previously cut forests has helped the United States be able to claim a gain in overall forest cover. (Butler, 2007) Although the United States can boast a higher forest cover they quality of the forest gained is not as high as the forest lost. The number of wildlife species in the new forest is significantly lower than the older forests. Deforestation in the United States is caused by the logging business, road construction, industrialization, and paper consumption. All of these causes of forest destruction the logging business is the main cause of deforestation in the United States. The Forest Service that is meant to protect the forests is influenced greatly by the timber industry. The Forest Service in the United is so heavily influenced by the logging industry that the Timber certification (n.d.) stated, that the Forest Service "actually subsidizes timber companies to the extent of $500 million per year in taxpayers' money" (para. 2). These practices make wood and paper cheaper and provides jobs in the timber industry, but it makes it harder for the recycling industry to be successful (Timber certicication, ). Timber is highly consumed by the people of the United States, and the deforestation caused by human consumption is a threat, but there are ways to help reconcile the negative impact deforestation has on the United States.
There are methods that can be taken in order to help improve these problems in the United States. The impact of soil degradation is hard to combat, but with improved farming methods and regulations it can be helped. "No-till farming has helped reduce water erosion by over 40% since 1982" in the United States according to Kaisser&Proffit (2004).The farming industry can help stop soil degradation by using more environmentally beneficial planting methods such as crop rotations and maintaining strips of natural plant growth in between crops. Farmers and gardeners can also help stop soil erosion by planting deep rooted perennials and using all naturally available precipitation in order to decrease ground water. A decrease in ground water will help decrease the amount of salt in the soil. Intercropping is also a very practical and environmentally beneficial method of farming that would help slow down the harmful process of soil degradation. Intercropping occurs when multiple different crops are grown on a piece of land (Sullivan, 2003). This method is good because instead of all of a particular nutrient being drained from the soil, the different crops will use different nutrients, and put back different nutrients into the land. With this land more crops can be grown in smaller areas without leaving the soil infertile (Sullivan, 2003). To improve deforestation laws should be enacted to protect the land. In 2001 Bill Clinton enacted a law that would preserve, "58.5 million acres of undeveloped national forest" (Butler, 2007, para. 4). President Bush has recently repealed that law, and the land is open to construction, but if that law could be reinstated it would make a huge step in protecting our forests and biodiversity. Deforestation is highly threatened by the timber industry in the United States. If the taxpayer's money went to the recycling industry instead of the logging industry than the negative influence of deforestation could be controlled (Timber certification,). The loss of jobs in the timber industry could be supplemented by increased jobs in recycling and environmental protection. There are many practices that the government, individual, and businesses should use in order to help stop the damages of soil degradation and deforestation in the United States.
There are many other places that are dealing with similar environmental issues as soil degradation and deforestation. In Canada there have been many problems with soil degradation. It was estimated that soil degradation was costing Canada about "$1.3 billion" a year and would continue to increase with time (Forge, 1998, para. 11 ). In order to prevent this tremendous loss of money and land the Canadian government enacted laws regulating and monitoring farming methods, and promoting awareness of the true harm of soil degradation. Soil conservation methods have been put into practice and seem to have worked. Due to soil conservation practices "the use of fallowing has decreased 30% over 20 years"; erosion has decreased and crop rotations have helped increase the amount of organic materials in the land (Forge, 1998, para. 13). Although these methods have been successful, they have only been successful in about one third of the area because the farming methods do not apply to all of the crops being grown (Forge, 1998). Brazil is another country promoting awareness of environmental issues. In Brazil they have created "more than 20 million hectares of parks, extractive reserve, and national forests", and many of these areas are significantly placed by new agricultural areas (Terra Daily, 2007, para. 4). If these areas are truly protected, it will stop "one billion tons of carbon from being transferred to the atmosphere through deforestation by the year 2015" (Terra Daily, 2007, para. 7). The success of these methods has spurred a program for reduction compensation in the United Nations which would help deforestation decrease globally (Terra Daily, 2007). The practice of promoting awareness of soil degradation and preserving natural forest land are methods that should be implemented in the United States.
The environment is seriously under attack in the United States. Soil degradation and deforestation have a direct impact on the environment in the United States by causing green house gas emissions to increase. These problems also cause infertility and loss of land. Both soil degradation and deforestation also cause a loss in biodiversity in the United States. These issues are serious threats to all species, humans and wildlife alike, and need to be dealt with immediately. There are many methods that have been put into use in order to help resolve the issues of soil degradation and deforestation; there are also many methods that have proved successful in other places such as Canada and Brazil. These methods, which include promoting awareness, preserving land, better farming methods, and allocating tax money to the recycling industry instead of the logging industry, are all very promising, and should be put into action in the United States. The problems of soil degradation and deforestation are real problems not only in the United States, but the rest of the world as well. The United States is one of the wealthiest countries in the world and should set a good example and protect the environment from this destruction instead of promoting it.
Butler R.A., (2007). United States has 7th highest rate of primary forest loss. Mongabay. Retrieved July 20, 2007, from http://news.mongabay.com/2005/1116-forests.html
Forge F., (1998). Agricultural soil conservation. Parliamentary research Branch. Retrieved July 20, 2007, from http://dsp-psd.pwgsc.gc.ca/Collection-R/LoPBdP/MR/mr151-e.htm#FEDERAL%20INITIATIVES(txt)
Kaiser, J. & Proffitt, F. (2004). Wounding earth's fragile skin. Science, 304(5677).
Sullivan P., (2003). Intercropping principles and production practices. National sustainable agricuolture and information services. Retrieved July 21, 2007, from http://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/intercrop.html#concepts
Terra Daily. (2007). Brazil demonstrating that reducing tropical deforestation is key winwin global warming solution. Retrieved July 19, 2007, from http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Brazil_Demonstrating_That_Reducing_Tropical_Deforestation_Is_Key_WinWin_Global_Warming_Solution_999.html
Timber certification. (n.d.). Deforestation threat. Retrieved July 20, 2007, fromhttp://darwin.bio.uci.edu/~sustain/issueguides/TimberCert/deforest/threats.html
World Resources Institute. (2006). Biodiversity and protected areas. Retrieved July 21, 2007, from http://earthtrends.wri.org/text/biodiversity-protected/country-profile-190.html