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The Future
From Grolier's The New Book of Knowledge
Saving the rain forest means saving the home of this three-toed sloth.

Photo: H. Vannoy Davis, California Academy of Sciences

Conservation groups estimate that globally, the equivalent of two football fields of rain forest (about 2.5 acres or 1 hectare) is destroyed each second. Each day, that amounts to an area larger than New York City—or approximately 214,000 acres (86,600 hectares). A study in June 2001 concluded that the Amazon rain forest will be damaged beyond repair in just 10 to 15 years if deforestation continues unabated. Furthermore, according to some estimates, the destruction of rain forests around the world could be causing the extinction of more than 100 species each day! This means that an estimated 20 percent of the biodiversity of Earth could become extinct within a generation. Some scientists estimate that nearly all tropical forest ecosystems could be destroyed by 2030.

Some steps are now being taken to stop this destruction. The best-received conservation programs aim to preserve the rain forests while still bringing economic rewards to the people and countries in which the forests are found. For instance, the Forest Stewardship Council—a nonprofit group made up of industry professionals, indigenous peoples, environmental groups, and others—has set up a forest-certification program. Under this program, accredited certifiers identify logging programs in which the harvesting of wood does not contribute to the mass destruction of the forest.

Efforts are also under way to help farms in rain-forest areas produce crops without damaging the rain forest. One such program, ECO-O.K., helps reward growers of crops—such as bananas, coffee, and Brazil nuts—for meeting environmental and social standards.

In addition, the Brazilian government recently pledged to set aside 62 million acres (25 million hectares) of rain forest for permanent protection. The program, cosponsored by the World Bank and World Wildlife Fund International, would put 10 percent of the Brazilian Amazon under government protection. But budget constraints caused by the country's financial difficulties have somewhat delayed implementation of the plan.

The ultimate effect of these and other efforts on the conservation of the rain forests is not yet certain. As a result, the survival of the world's rain forests—the richest, oldest, most productive, and most complex ecosystem on Earth—is still very much at risk.

Devera Pine

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