The forest, a disappearing resource

Healthy forests mean a healthy planet, because forests protect the catchment basins needed to supply freshwater and the soil from water and wind erosion, help to re-oxygenate air, provide shelter to plants and animals, food and fodder to mountain people, are a source of timber and other products. Despite this, forests are endangered. As early as the Middle Ages wood was a resource of primary importance since it was the only source of energy along with water. Later on, after the Industrial Revolution, forests remarkably dwindled, since this resource began to be used in many different ways: wood as a source of energy for forges (equipment where metal parts are hot-forged) and glassworks, to make railway sleepers at a time the railway network was extended for thousands of kilometres, to make new houses to cater for the increased population. The only ancient forests left are in eastern countries and in Russia. They are called “primary” and have never been exploited since they have always belonged to rich people who used them for hunting as well as often being hardly accessible. Today, the authorities are trying to control the forests that have been left in a way that enhances and protects their value. Many parks have been set up for this purpose, in which getting to know and appreciating forests helps the spreading of a more “environment-friendly” culture. In addition, the FAO has established a plan for the assessment of global forest resources. To put it in place, they had to resort to remote sensing and geographical mapping to monitor the conditions of the Planet’s ecosystems.

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