October 2011
Billie Silvey
In the early days, the United States was covered with virgin forests
and deep, luxurious grasslands full of living creatures.  But the
demand for food and housing led people to cut down the forests,
plow under the prairie grasslands and hunt the animals to near
extinction.  The demand for fuel and other natural resources led to
mining and drilling and the further destruction of the beauty and
mystery of our own land.

The same thing is happening today in the Amazon.  Once a vast sea
of tropical forest, the Amazon rainforest is now scarred by roads,
farms, ranches and dams.  Over 2.7 million acres of forests are
burned and cut down each year.  Today, more than 20 percent of
the Amazon rainforest is gone forever.

The land is cleared to log timber, create large-scale cattle ranches,
mines, roads and hydroelectric plants.  While some is used for
subsistence farming, other parts are burned to provide charcoal to
power industrial plants.  Most of this destruction ends up doing just
one thing--enriching large corporations.

We can understand it, but we can hope--for our sakes and the sakes
of the peoples who live there--that the destruction slows and
becomes educated use not exploitation, wise and careful stewardship
not destruction for profit.

As important as the Amazon is to the planet, we shouldn't see it, as
we did our own country, as a place of wealth to be squandered, but
as a place of wonderful potential that may never be realized if we
don't slow the devastation.

Deforestation pollutes the air and water, erodes the soil, increases
malaria epidemics, releases carbon dioxide and destroys indigenous
populations, plants and animals.  Scientists estimate that we are
destroying more than 137 species of plants and animals each day.
Most of the forest is lost to commercial
logging.  Our appetite for tropical
hardwoods is immense, but we also
destroy rainforests for cardboard
packaging, woodchips, paper and
charcoal for fuel.  Logging concessions
are sold for as little as $2 an acre.

Once an acre has been logged, it can
never become what it was before.  The
intricate ecosystem is lost forever.  
Plants that grow in the dark humid
environment below the canopy can't
live in the open, so they and the
animals that depend on them become
extinct.  Rain quickly erodes thin
topsoil that is no longer protected by
the canopy.
Subsistence Farming
Our demand for cheap beef causes
rainforests to be destroyed to provide
grazing land.  To graze a steer in
Amazonia requires two full acres.  A
single cattle operation in Brazil that was
co-owned by a British bank and one of
Brazil's wealthiest families destroyed
almost 500,000 acres of rainforest.  It
never made a profit, but government
write-offs sheltered huge logging profits
on other land owned by the same

The forest is seen as an economic
engine to drive national economies
rather than the priceless resource that it
Indigenous people who slash and burn
trees to clear land to feed themselves and
their families don't represent the levels of
destruction corporate clearing does, but
that's how we started in this country, and
all too quickly one thing led to another.  
sustainable farming methods can
save  valuable rainforests.
Saving the Rainforest
The Amistad, a river boat run by the Smithsonian Institute, is
used for
ecotourism, training people to appreciate and care for
the environment while making very limited impact on it.

Bioprospecting is another method of helping preserve the
Amazon.  A confederacy of plant collectors, anthropologists,
ecologists, conservationists, natural product companies,
nutritional supplements manufacturers, AIDS and cancer
researchers and drug companies work together to discover the
secrets of the rainforests.

Most plant-derived drugs were discovered by examining the
use indigenous peoples made of local plants. If they are
allowed to benefit from their discoveries rather than all the
profits going to drug companies, the rainforest could be saved.

Rainforests converted to cattle operations yield $60 an acre.  
If timber is harvested, an acre is worth $400.  But if medicine,
nuts, fruit, rubber, chocolate and other renewable resources
are harvested, the land yields $2,400 an acre, not just now but
for succeeding generations.

Let's encourage sustainable use of this God-given area of
wonder, worth and beauty.
The western Amazon is being threatened by
oil and gas reserves that the national
governments of Ecuador and Pero are leasing to
state and multinational energy companies.

Impacts include deforestation to create access
roads, drilling platforms and pipelines, contamination
from previous operations, oil spills and seismic
testing activities.
State of Wonder