The Amazon River Basin has the largest tropical rainforest in the world. The river basin is so large, it would cover most of the United States. The forest runs through eight countries in South America and covers 40% of the continent. A tropical ecosystem made up of exotic plants and animals that are found no where else on earth. Many scientists believe the rainforest holds the key to cures for diseases like cancer, AIDS, arthritis, Alzheimer’s and diabetes, to name just a few. Branches of the U.S. government and more than 100 pharmaceutical companies fund studies of plants in the rainforest. Drug manufactures and our government work with native healers and shamans as they search for cures to deadly diseases. The knowledge of the healers of the various plants is invaluable to scientists looking for cures. The rainforest is home to an estimated 5 million plants, animals and insects. Scientists have researched only 1% of the plants. Today, 25% of the medicines we use were discovered in the Amazon rainforest. America’s northwest coast and Alaska’s rainforest isn’t in the same category as the Amazon, but we do have our own temperate rainforest.
The difference between tropical and temperate rainforests. A tropical rainforest is found along the equator. Temperate rainforests, like the one that runs along the northwest coast of the U.S., are farther from the equator. They are located in wet and cool climates where sea air and mountains close to the coast cause weather patterns moving over the area to drop large amounts of rain. The tropical rainforest has a more diverse population of plants and animals and temperate rainforests contain more organic material like, wood, leaf litter, organic soil, moss, dead leaves and other plants.
America’s coastal rainforest stretches from Alaska’s Kodiak Island, along British Columbia and south along Washington, Oregon and California’s coastline to the Redwood Forest. Of the remaining temperate rainforests left in the world, America’s northwest coast is the largest. The Lewis and Clark expedition spent the winter of 1805 – 06 on Oregon’s coast and endured the miserable conditions caused by the temperate weather as they explored the area and documented the plants and animals they found. Many of which had never been seen before except by Native America Indians living in the region.
Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska, like other forests, has been opened up to logging in recent years. A once pristine forest without roads, logging companies are cutting away at old growth trees. At 17 million acres, Tongass is our largest National Forest. It’s an unforgiving environment, but is also full of natural beauty, wildlife and a place where one can find a spiritual presence. Tongass is one of the world’s largest old growth forests left and contains a third of the still standing old growth trees worldwide.
Chugach National Forest in south central Alaska is the second largest forest in our National Forest system. When Theodore Roosevelt designated the land in 1907 as a national forest, there were originally 23 million acres, but the land area has been reduced to 5.6 million acres today. Chugach is only 500 miles south of the Arctic Circle.
Olympic National Forest is where you will find the Hoh Rainforest. It receives 140 to 170 inches of rainfall each year and is 633,600 acres. Located in northwestern Washington State, Olympic National Forest has five different landscapes that range from temperate rainforest, mountain terrain, lowland lakes, flowing rivers and saltwater beaches with over 2,132,300 acres of public land.
Redwood Forest is one of the most awe inspiring places on earth. Redwood trees grow into giant skyscrapers with some reaching heights of 360 feet. They are only found in the temperate rainforest of northern California and southern Oregon. These trees can live to be as old as 2,000 to 2,500 years old and some of the oldest ones were around when the Roman Empire was in it’s full glory. Redwood National Park covers 75,452 acres with 19,640 acres of old growth forest. By 1960, out of an estimated two million trees, only 10% of old growth forest was still standing because of over logging. Today, activists are still fighting logging companies as they try to preserve what is left of the giant trees.
Rainforests play an important role in the Earth’s climate by absorbing carbon dioxide. Trees pull carbon out of the atmosphere through photosynthesis which in turn creates oxygen. The Amazon Rainforest alone creates 20% of the world’s oxygen. Co2 levels have increased over the years as more of the rainforests around the world are cut down to clear land for farming and for commercial use.
When Theodore Roosevelt created the National Park system, his intention was to make sure these lands were protected from those whose only interest was in commercial exploitation of the land and resources. Roosevelt believed it was the people who should enjoy the beauty of these parks and our national parks should be preserved for future generations to enjoy.
Just like tropical rainforests, temperate rainforests regulate weather patterns and the temperature of the Earth. Whether you believe climate change is man made or simply a cycle the earth is going through, tropical and temperate rainforests play a key role in the Earth’s changes. Just like everything that is provided to us by nature, it’s our responsibility to use these resources with care and wisdom. Logging companies and oil companies don’t own the land or our natural resources. They belong to everyone and if we don’t take a stand to help protect what’s left of the rainforest here and in other countries, survival for mankind could become a lot more difficult as the health of the Earth is put at risk. Climate change may or may not be real, but are we really willing to risk the consequences if we’re wrong?
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