Water and Forests

By Liliana Usvat

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When forests are disturbed on a small scale (less than 10 square kilometres), the effects on water are relatively well known. Full or partial removal of a small forest—whether through natural disturbances (such as fire or insect infestation) or through harvesting—causes an immediate drop in evapotranspiration. The result: more moisture in the soil and more runoff.

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Small forest disturbances also change the way elements cycle through forest soils. In the short term, disturbances can lead to greater export of some elements (such as nitrogen and phosphorous) to surface waters, which can affect aquatic ecosystems.

Global Economy Impact on Forest

Human society and the global economy are inextricably linked to forests. More than 1 billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods. And forest ecosystems play a critical role in stabilizing the climate; providing food, water, and vital medicines; and supporting much of the world’s biodiversity.

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Despite decreased deforestation rates in some regions, forest ecosystems are still under great threat. According to WRI research, 30 percent of global forest cover has been cleared, while another 20 percent has been degraded. Most of the rest has been fragmented, leaving only about 15 percent intact.

Water Birds and  Forest

Forests supports billions of birds within its patchwork of bogs, spruce forests and countless lakes, rivers and streams.

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Shrub and forest-edge birds have shown the largest declines; over the last 40 years, all but one species has declined. All species in this group are migratory, and threats to their wintering habitat may be important.

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On average, waterfowl and other water bird populations have increased slightly relative to 1970. Some species have shown substantial increases of more than 100% (Hooded Merganser, Sandhill Crane and Canada Goose), while others have declined strongly, such as the American Bittern and Common Goldeneye.

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Forests and Drinking Water

Forests capture rainfall and replenish and cleanse our water supply. Although these ecological services provided by forests are widely accepted in the scientific community, they have not really been translated into the language that most often drives planning and land use decisions at the local level: dollars.

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Local government officials often make tough decisions about growth at the expense of natural resource conservation, and they must make these decisions without the benefit of economic data that measures the true costs of development and values of natural resources.

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For decades, technology has replaced, to some extent, the services provided by forests but at a high price.  Billions of dollars are invested in the construction and upgrade of water treatment plants to clean our public water supply that has been degraded by pollution as a result of industrialization and urban development.

In fact, water utilities spend 19 times more on water treatment chemicals every year than the federal government invests in protecting lakes and rivers from pollution in the first place using techniques such as conservation of forest land.

The Forest Service estimates that nearly 1 million acres of forest were converted to developed uses each year in the 1990s, and by 2050, an additional 23 million acres of forests may be lost due to development (Stein et al., 2005).

Areas experiencing the most forest loss are often suburban and urbanizing communities where municipal staff struggle to keep up with the growth and may not have adequate tools to manage it.  How does this loss of forest cover translate to costs incurred by communities for sustaining quality, long term water supply?

The answer to this question is largely unknown as few communities track increases in drinking water treatment costs (or other community services) with the loss of forest land or evaluate these possible impacts prior to approving new developments.

Blog 35-365

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About lilianausvat

My Websites: Books: http://www.ucbooksale.com/ Math Website: http://www.mathematicsmagazine.com Reforestation: http://lilianausvat.blogspot.ca/ Real Estate: http://www.lilianausvat.com/
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