There are numerous threats to the land and that which depends on it:
1 Deforestation and wildfires.
2 Excessive farming ruining the soil.
Deforestation and wildfires
Forests play a vital role in maintaining the balance of the Earth’s ecosystems. They provide habitat for more than half of all terrestrial species, help filter pollutants out of the air and water, and prevent soil erosion. Rainforests also provide essential hydrological (water-related) services. For example, they tend to result in higher dry season streamflow and river levels, since forests slow down the rate of water or rain run-off, and help it enter into the aquifer. Without a tree cover, the water tends to run off quickly into the streams and rivers, often taking a lot of topsoil with it. Forests also help the regional climate as they cycle water to the interior of a continent. The shrinking of the Amazon Rainforest reduces regional rainfall, which in turn threatens the health of the remaining forest and of the agricultural land in Southern Brazil. This also results in an increased fire risk.
Forests and their soils also play a critical role in the global carbon cycle. The level of CO2 in the atmosphere depends on the distribution or exchange of carbon between different “carbon pools” as part of the carbon cycle. Forests and their soils are major carbon pools, as are oceans, agricultural soils, other vegetation, and wood products: the carbon stored in the woody part of trees and shrubs (known as “biomass”) and soils is about 50% more than that stored in the atmosphere.
Trees continuously exchange CO2 with the atmosphere. The release of CO2 into the air is due both to natural processes (respiration of trees at night and the decomposition of organic matter) and human processes (removal or destruction of trees). Similarly, CO2 is removed from the atmosphere by the action of photosynthesis, which results in carbon being integrated into the organic molecules used by plants, including the woody biomass of trees. Thus forests play a major role in regulating global temperatures by absorbing heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and storing it in the form of wood and vegetation – a process referred to as “carbon sequestration”.
Unfortunately, the global benefits provided by trees are being threatened by deforestation and forest degradation. ‘Deforestation’ as a shorthand for tree loss.Forest ‘degradation’ happens when the forest gets degraded, for example due to unsustainable logging practices which remove the most valuable species, or artesanal charcoal production in which only a few trees are harvested. The Earth loses more than 18 million acres of forestland every year—an area larger than Ireland—according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Deforestation is a major cause of global warming. When trees are burned, their stored carbon is released back into the atmosphere. As a result, tropical deforestation (including forest degradation) is responsible for about 12-15 percent of total annual global warming emissions according to the most recent estimates released for the climate change meeting in Copenhagen. Globally, some 10 million hectares of forests are lost annually, an area larger than Portugal.
The reasons for deforestation are complex – they are a mixture of interacting and interdependent social, economic, political, demographic (or population) and governance factors. The most important factors are clearance for agriculture (including cattle ranching), poor governance (illegal logging, corruption, and ineffective law and order), insecurity of land tenure, the system of international trade, poor planning (e.g.building of major trunk roads in forest areas), and unsustainable logging.
“The tropical deforestation in Asia is driven primarily by the fast-growing demand for timber. In Latin America, by contrast, the growing demand for soybeans and beef is deforesting the Amazon. In Africa, it is mostly the gathering of fuelwood and the clearing of new land for agriculture as existing cropland is degraded and abandoned. Two countries, Indonesia and Brazil, account for more than half of all deforestation.”
Agricultural clearance is overall the most important cause of deforestation – it is estimated to be responsible for up to three quarters of deforestation and degradation. While some of this is for commercial biofuel crops like oil palm and soybean, which grow very well in tropical forest areas, much of it is also due to the basic problem of how to feed a burgeoning world population. Also many of the ‘agents of deforestation’ are among the poorest people in the world, often without land, who are forced to clear forest areas to feed their families.
At the same time, forests that have so far escaped deforestation are now threatened by climate change: In many regions of the world, more trees will die because of increasing insect infestations and forest fires. (More insects are surviving milder winters.) “Wildfires have been on the rise worldwide for half a century. Every decade since the 1950s has seen an increase in major wildfires in the United States and around the world.”
In addition to the environmental devastation, forest fires directly affect the lives of people. In the 2007 wildfires in Southern California, 900,000 people were displaced. “The total area affected by forest fires in the western US has increased by more than a factor of six in the past two decades.”[xxiv]
Tropical rainforests, rich in biodiversity, are suffering from warmer temperatures and less rainfall, both caused by climate change. In the past, rainforests were a sink for CO2. Now with hotter temperatures, their growth is impeded, and some are actually emitting CO2.
If climate change is not mitigated, rainforests will not be able to survive. “If the IPCC’s most severe projection comes true, much of the Amazon rainforest will transform into savannah.
Halting deforestation and maintaining forests could prevent emissions of approximately 3.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent. The restoration of 350 million hectares of deforested and degraded land by 2030 could deliver a net benefit of up to US$9 trillion, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Reforestation could cost-effectively take nearly 1.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent out of the atmosphere per year.
Reviving forests is a key part of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, a global push to revitalize a host of degraded landscapes and seascapes. Experts say crucial ingredients in forest restoration include growing the right trees in the right places and respecting the spiritual value of certain tree species. Local forest custodians, including indigenous and faith groups, often have a deeper understanding of the environment and native tree species from their long-term relationship with the area. Indigenous peoples manage an estimated 25 per cent of Earth’s land, and faith institutions own 8 per cent of habitable land. Experts say that building upon these groups’ knowledge and outreach is therefore key to addressing deforestation, restoring forests and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, humanity’s blueprint for a better future.
The Faith for Earth Initiative and the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative, hosted by UNEP, are at the heart of this drive. Among the initiatives’ main goals is to empower faith-based organizations to advocate for environmental protection and to provide them with knowledge and networks to bolster communication with decision makers and the public.
Excessive farming ruining the soil
From World Wildlife Magazine
“Food production is a leading driver of habitat loss, overfishing, and freshwater consumption. Yet the habitat under the most direct pressure from agriculture is also the most ignored: soil. An ecosystem in miniature, soil is full of microscopic canyons, bogs, and even wildlife. These features are vital to food production—but they’re seriously stressed by it, too. Fortunately, when farmers are not planting cash crops like corn and soybeans, a growing number of them are planting “cover crops” to give back to the soil that gives so much.
“These include hairy vetch, clover, or field peas—that are especially good at pulling nitrogen from the air into the ground, to nourish the next round.
“Cover crops are like umbrellas for the soil. When rain hits the bare ground directly, it can displace the soil, causing erosion and runoff. Crops break the rain’s fall and help keep more sediment and nutrients in place—and out of nearby waterways.
“By allowing better water absorption and enriching the soil with nutrients, cover crops have been shown to increase yields of economically important crops such as corn, soybeans, and wheat.
“In addition to improving soil health and cash crop yields, cover crops can add financial value to a farm, especially one with livestock. Letting farm animals eat the cover crops effectively turns plants into protein, and can help reduce spending on feed, fertilizer, and fuel.
“While herbicides help keep weeds at bay, their overuse can come with harmful side effects. Cover crops such as cereal rye are good at suppressing unwanted plants, enabling farmers to better manage their use of these sometimes toxic treatments.
“By keeping roots in the ground, cover crops break up the soil and keep it from getting compacted. Roots hold soil in place and help create space underground that allows the soil to better absorb and store water, all of which comes in handy during floods and droughts alike
From American Museum of Natural History
“The term biodiversity (from “biological diversity”) refers to the variety of life on Earth at all its levels, from genes to ecosystems, and can encompass the evolutionary, ecological, and cultural processes that sustain life. Biodiversity includes not only species we consider rare, threatened, or endangered but also every living thing – from humans to organisms we know little about, such as microbes, fungi, and invertebrates.
“Biodiversity is important to most aspects of our lives. We value biodiversity for many reasons, some utilitarian, some intrinsic. This means we value biodiversity both for what it provides to humans, and for the value it has in its own right. Utilitarian values include the many basic needs humans obtain from biodiversity such as food, fuel, shelter, and medicine. Further, ecosystems provide crucial services such as pollination, seed dispersal, climate regulation, water purification, nutrient cycling, and control of agricultural pests. Biodiversity also holds value for potential benefits not yet recognized, such as new medicines and other possible unknown services. Biodiversity has cultural value to humans as well, for spiritual or religious reasons for instance. The intrinsic value of biodiversity refers to its inherent worth, which is independent of its value to anyone or anything else. This is more of a philosophical concept, which can be thought of as the inalienable right to exist. Finally, the value of biodiversity can also be understood through the lens of the relationships we form and strive for with each other and the rest of nature. We may value biodiversity because of how it shapes who we are, our relationships to each other, and social norms. These relational values are part of peoples’ individual or collective sense of wellbeing, responsibility for, and connection with the environment. The different values placed on biodiversity are important because they can influence the conservation decisions people make every day.
“Over the last century, humans have come to dominate the planet, causing rapid ecosystem change and massive loss of biodiversity across the planet. This has led some people to refer to the time we now live in as the “anthropocene.” While the Earth has always experienced changes and extinctions, today they are occurring at an unprecedented rate. Major direct threats to biodiversity include habitat loss and fragmentation, unsustainable resource use, invasive species, pollution, and global climate change. The underlying causes of biodiversity loss, such as a growing human population and overconsumption are often complex and stem from many interrelated factors.
“The good news is that it is within our power to change our actions to help ensure the survival of species and the health and integrity of ecological systems. By understanding threats to biodiversity, and how they play out in context, we can be best prepared to manage conservation challenges. The conservation efforts of the last decades have made a significant difference in the state of biodiversity today. Over 100,000 protected areas—including national parks, wildlife refuges, game reserves, and marine protected areas, managed both by governments and local communities—provide habitat for wildlife, and help keep deforestation in check.
When protecting habitat is not enough, other types of conservation actions such as restoration, reintroduction, and the control of invasive species, have had positive impacts. And these efforts have been bolstered by continuous efforts to improve environmental policies at local, regional, and global scales. Finally, the lifestyle choices of individuals and communities can have a large effect on their impacts on biodiversity and the environment. While we might not be able to prevent all negative human impacts on biodiversity, with knowledge we can work to change the direction and shape of our effects on the rest of life on Earth.”
To encourage biodiversity along the Rappahannock the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1996 to conserve and protect fish and wildlife resources such as the bald eagle, threatened and endangered species, and wetlands. A brochure is here. It currently protects 9,030 acres.
The Port Royal unit is a part of the refuge. It protects critical floodplain habitat on the river’s edge. This 125-acre site is managed as grassland and shrubland habitat for species such as vesper and grasshopper sparrows. A mowed trail provides access to the Rappahannock River, host to year-round concentrations of bald eagles and wintering waterfowl.