Biodiversity: Healthy Forests, Healthy People

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Sofia Perez is with the Rainforest Alliance, an EarthShare member organization. Here she discusses the importance of forests to biodiversity, and talks about programs her organization has in place to help halt destruction and transform land-use practices, business practices and consumer behavior. The International Day for Biological Diversity is May 22.

The word “biodiversity” is technically a noun, but EarthShare member group Rainforest Alliance thinks of it as a verb. More than just a laundry list of flora and fauna, biodiversity encapsulates the way living organisms co-exist in a shared space and thrive on their interdependence.

Although the word is often used interchangeably with “wildlife,” the true definition of biodiversity is much broader. It’s the variety and abundance of plants and animals in a particular ecosystem, the genetic richness they contain and the diversity of the world’s habitats as a whole. To witness a living, breathing laboratory of biodiversity, look no further than the nearest forest.

Forests are consummate multi-taskers. Not only do they remove carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, prevent soil erosion and protect water supplies, they harbor 80 percent of Earth’s terrestrial species. They also play a sheltering role in the day-to-day lives of people and wildlife, providing habitat, shade, food, medicine, fuel and other resources.

Because forests are crucial to so many, they are under extraordinary pressure. Global consumption of natural resources increased by more than 40 percent between 1992 and 2005, according to the U.N. Environment Programme. Millions of indigenous people depend on forests for their subsistence, and a total of 1.6 billion people rely on forest resources for their income and survival. Communities that harvest timber and forest goods are no longer doing so solely to meet their own needs but also to supply a global market in forest products that has grown to $327 billion.

This demand has led to the destruction of more than 35 million acres of forest annually through overharvesting, the conversion of forests to farms, burning and illegal logging. Because interdependence is a defining characteristic of biodiversity, environmental destruction has catastrophic effects on wildlife.

Deforestation deprives jaguars, migratory birds and other animals of their habitats and migration routes and isolates their breeding populations; causes orangutans and scarlet macaws to lose their forage; and increases topsoil run-off, which flows into rivers, killing aquatic life hundreds of miles downstream and eventually silting precious coral reef habitat.

Humans are not immune either. Forest loss creates a vicious cycle that intensifies economic desperation, which can drive people to deplete their forest resources further just to survive.


Photo: Rainforest Alliance


Stopping this destruction is at the heart of the Rainforest Alliance’s mission: to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices and consumer behavior. To address a problem this complex requires solutions that are as multifaceted as the environments, wildlife and communities that we all wish to protect.

In practical terms, this means that we collaborate with community members, business leaders, nonprofit advocates, scientists, technical experts and government officials to help the agriculture, forestry and tourism industries manage their natural resources sustainably. And to ensure that our efforts have staying power, we educate consumers, teachers and students about the impacts of their everyday choices and the simple steps that they can take as individuals to support positive changes on a global scale.

In conjunction with our international network of partners, we evaluate companies and community enterprises against rigorous environmental, social and economic guidelines. Beyond setting aside forestland for protection, our standards ensure that sustainably managed farms, forests and tourism businesses help to link and buffer isolated forest fragments. The result is a healthy forest that conserves biodiversity by creating corridors for wildlife migration, protecting habitat, preventing erosion and reducing the risk of fires, poaching and other destructive activities.   

Those businesses that meet these strict standards may use the Rainforest Alliance Certified™ or Rainforest Alliance Verified™ trustmarks to market their products. These seals give consumers a way to support and reward sustainability through their purchases and the confidence that the products and/or services they are buying were produced responsibly.

When the Rainforest Alliance was founded more than 25 years ago, we envisioned a world where people could earn a living while restoring degraded land and protecting threatened wildlife and ecosystems. Human beings are an integral part of the planet’s great web of biodiversity, and it is our responsibility to conserve the Earth’s magnificent range of flora and fauna. In the long run, a web is only as strong as its weakest strands.



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