Mountain Forests for Sustainability
- Date submitted: 1 Nov 2011
- Stakeholder type: Major Group
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Mountain Forests for long-term Sustainability
Critical imbalances in Earth?s hydrological cycle and ?Climate Change? are presently threatening all of life on Earth. It is therefore imperative that this situation is more broadly understood and that work towards remedying it is implemented. Many eminent people have gathered together in influential environmental assemblies to address these global difficulties.
?Healthy mountain ecosystems are the foundation of healthy people, both in the mountains above and in the plains below. To save civilization, there is no greater urgency today than to regenerate and conserve our mountains. ?Their role in regulating our climate and water systems is fundamental to the sustenance of our life on this planet.?(Dr Ashok Khosla, Lucerne World Mountain Conference 11/10/11) It would seem from their common consensus that the way to potentially mitigate and solve these problems rests with implementing sustainable development programs. When considering sustainable development and the survival of life on Earth, the health and balance of the global fresh water system is the most important issues that needs to be addressed and raised to a level of paramount importance. When considering Earth?s fresh water system, it is vital to think about Mountain Regions.
?Mountains are the primary sources for the Earth's supply of fresh water. They provide critical storage of fresh water, stored in the form of ice and snow and in lakes, wetlands and reservoirs. This water is later released, providing critical flows to rivers and streams. Such valuable storage of fresh water is vital for all life on Earth.
All of the world's rivers originate in the Mountains and flow to the oceans, sustaining the life of all beings, in all ways of life here on Earth.? (United Nations, Agenda 21,1992) If we consider the Earth as our home in a similar way to which we might consider a great house with many floors and rooms, it is easy to understand the dangers, which threaten the whole house, should the roof become destabilized? In this manner we could consider all land above 3,000 feet as the roof and all below as the body of the house. ?The Roof of the World? is comprised of all of Earth?s mountain regions. However some areas form the top of ?The Roof of the World?. One of these areas is the Andes another is known as the Himalayan Hindu Kush. The Hindu Kush region covers an area of more than 4.3 million square kilometers. It spans large areas of Tibet and China, along with areas in Bhutan, Nepal, India, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. This region stores more snow, ice and permafrost than anywhere else on Earth outside the Polar Regions.
Due to this it is now being known as ?The Third Pole?. Scientific evidence shows that the Tibet Plateau, the main body of the Qinghai‐Tibet Plateau, is the "starter" and "regulating area" of Climate Change in the Northern Hemisphere, playing an important role in conserving water resources and controlling the Climate (Zhang Yongze, Director of the Environmental Protection Bureau of Tibet Autonomous Region). Glaciers form the water towers of Earth. Over the last century, mountain glaciers worldwide have, on average, been seriously decreasing in length and volume. Glaciers worldwide have been retreating so rapidly that they may completely disappear soon (Chadwick, 2007).
?In the past half-century, 82% of the Tibetan plateau?s glaciers have retreated. In the past decade, 10% of its permafrost has degraded. As the changes continue, or even accelerate, their effects will resonate far beyond the isolated plateau, changing the water supply for billions of people and altering the atmospheric circulation over half the planet.? (Qui, Nature, 2008)
Considering this, the health of ?The Roof of the World? seriously needs immediate attention and the detrimental affects of hydro-dams on the environment in these regions should also be reconsidered. Along with all life on Earth, hydro dams are dependent upon healthy glacial flow. With melting glaciers they are not so reliable now, as when first conceived. Given the quantity of high quality free solar energy in mountain regions it would be beneficial to replace hydro-dam electrical projects with solar power projects. "The U.N expresses its deep concern at the number and scale of disasters and their increasing impact within recent years, which have resulted in massive loss of life and long-term negative social, economic and environmental consequences for vulnerable societies throughout the world, in particular in mountain regions." (United Nations, 2006)
In mountain regions high altitude forests, through the action of precipitation and transpiration play a major role in the creation of snow (Bandyopadhyay, J. 1995). Precipitation is the process by which water molecules (H2O) form rain and snow. This occurs in relation to a combination of different factors, particularly when certain plants and trees are present. Deciduous trees such as oak release large amounts of a powerful hydrocarbon, known as isoprene into the atmosphere. Isoprene breaks down into a compound called dihydroxypoxide. This is very reactive and forms multitudes of bio- aerosols. These act like a vacuum cleaner of the atmosphere and are an essential factor in cloud formation (F. Paulot, J. D. Crounse, 'Unexpected epoxide formation in the gas- phase photooxidation of isoprene', Science 325(2009). It is interesting that the oak species is one of the main indigenous plants of the Himalayas. However it has been massively depleted due to its commercial value. Another factor in precipitation is known as ice nucleation, whereby bacteria produced by plants are blown into the atmosphere. These form the nuclei seeds around which ice crystals form. Snow and most rain begins with the formation of ice in clouds (C.E. Morris, D.G. Georga Kopoulos, D.C. Sands).
The stability of Earth?s rivers and water tables depends upon maintaining the integrity of watersheds. These, in turn, depend upon the healthy biodiversity of the high altitude forests. It has been recognized that the protective function of stable forest cover is vital for safeguarding them. It has been said that only 25% of the Earth?s indigenous mountain forests are still intact (Maggio, Gregory F. and Owen J. Lynch. 1996). This implies that 75% is missing.
"Despite all of the great benefits that mountain forests provide they have been disappearing at a startling rate in the last decade." (Bishkek, Global Mountain Summit, 2002)
These forests are the natural mechanism, which would normally be involved in making the mountain snows and replenishing the glaciers. These snows also act like a mirror reflecting solar radiation. As they melt, the mirror thins and more solar rays penetrate through to the Earth. When this ice melts, it increases the quantity of water vapor in the atmosphere. Water vapor (H2O) is a very powerful greenhouse gas, which normally stays in the atmosphere for no more than nine days. However if it is not brought to Earth through precipitation, it rises into the upper atmosphere and increases the problems of the greenhouse effect (Santer 2007).
This is a pivotal global problem that affects and threatens all life on Earth, along with all economies. Therefore it needs to be addressed and remedied without further delay. To stop this problem from escalating, certain indigenous, high precipitating, fast growing plants should be planted, throughout mountain regions imminently. Trees like oak, which are slow growing and fragile when young, need the support of numerous other plants to be able to take root and survive; especially in seriously eroded mountain areas. Encouraging, supporting and spreading biodiversity is crucial.
Earth?s hydrological system, unlike coal, uranium and oil, is a fast regenerating system. Given the right ingredients, of mixed indigenous mountain forest, it can be rebalanced and maintained.
From our research it appears to be both essential and plausible to reforest approximately 25% of Earths mountain regions within the next thirty years; so enabling natural ecological systems to re-balance themselves. The nature of Earth is an interconnected system. If we can view it from this perspective we have more chances of working in harmony with it and of solving problems related to it and ourselves.
Due to rapidly deteriorating environmental conditions along with the growing fragility of mountain regions, it is urgent that an interconnected method is applied. This should be coupled with the protection and regeneration of indigenous mountain forests along with a ban on mountain region deforestation by all U.N countries. Other countries could be encouraged with financial incentives to do likewise. Co-operation between world governments and groups is essential to enable the effectiveness of an endeavor of this magnitude. The involvement of mountain communities is absolutely fundamental. Therefore any methods used need to fit with their requirements and traditions.
Considering this, we have looked at how these communities traditionally preserved their environments through cultural and religious practices.
One of these ways that has proven to be particularly effective is that of designating specific areas as Sacred Groves. Traditionally these groves were created and protected by local communities. They are forested sites where religious, cultural and educational activities take place. Well-preserved Groves are storehouses of valuable biodiversity. Many of the plant species found in them have great medicinal, economic and land restorative value and would otherwise be extinct.
?Sacred groves can benefit local agriculture by preserving a habitat for birds that control insect outbreaks in adjacent crop fields and may also serve as seed banks for locally adapted crop varieties and medicinal plants. Even small groves can be surprisingly effective in conserving biodiversity? (Warren and Pinkston 1998) ?A scientific understanding of the sacred groves would be significantly important for designing strategies for the rehabilitation of degraded landscapes, involving local people?s participation.?(Gadgil and Berkes, 1991)
It is a method, which is still in use and accepted by traditional mountain communities and could potentially be adopted by many other communities. This would involve the creation of new sacred groves and the preservation and restoration of existing ones. If preferred some could be designated as Peace Parks. It could conceivably be done through the making of many small groves throughout large rugged regions. Green corridors/belts could be the means by which these are linked and through which biodiversity is able to spread and establish itself fast. In these corridors useful medicinal plants and vegetation could be planted for both local immediate needs and cottage industry. Because it is a method, which has proven successful and which is interrelated with both the ancient and present day traditions of indigenous communities, it could spread fast and easily, without the normal resistance that many conservational efforts so often come up against. Using a combination of methods ranging from traditional knowledge, companion planting and permaculture techniques, the establishing of high altitude indigenous forests fast is still possible. Local communities could be organized into collectives using co- operative methods for managing and maintaining these groves and green belts/corridors. These methods could increase employment and economies within mountain regions. It has already been agreed by world governments that:
?High levels of funding, investment and greater support are required in mountain areas. This is essential for the survival of both highland and lowland communities.? (U.N General Assembly, 29 September 2005).
Payment for Environmental Services schemes could be used to support mountainous countries and communities to establish and protect indigenous mountain forests using the proposed methods. Over time many related and interrelated projects could be designed which promote and support green economies. Various education programs could be implemented teaching and linking communities both locally and globally.
Active Remedy Ltd. has researched and presented these ideas as a way to help mitigate environmental disasters and their resulting calamities, along with offering it as a global model for environmental restoration and conservation. They are intended to help in achieving long-term environmental sustainability as outlined in the ?Millennium Development Goals?.
?Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage; lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost‐effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.? (UNCED, 1992 Principle 15)
This could be a way whereby many seemingly unrelated groups and individuals could join together and support a common global program for the benefit of their projects and the greater good of the whole.