The chief economic product of forests is timber, but the economic benefits, in terms of climate control, pollution abatement, and wildlife maintenance, have rarely been calculated. The economic importance of nontimber forest products is also increasing. The forest is also vital as a watershed. Because of the thick humus layer, loose soil, and soil-retaining powers of the trees' long roots, forests are vitally important for preserving adequate water supplies. Almost all water ultimately feeds from forest rivers and lakes and from forest-derived water tables. In addition, the forest provides shelter for wildlife, recreation and aesthetic renewal for people, and irreplaceable supplies of oxygen and soil nutrients. Deforestation, particularly in the tropical rain forests, has become a major environmental concern, as it can destabilize the earth's tempeature, humidity, and carbon dioxide levels. Efforts to control deforestation, including those at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, remain ineffective.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.