We need look no farther than Haiti to understand the importance of trees in a tropical environment. The impoverished country, which has been hammered over and over by this fall's tropical storms and hurricanes, has lost 98 percent of its forests--and not from the storms. Desperate for income, farmers have been chopping down their trees to sell the wood as charcoal. With few trees remaining, the topsoil is extremely vulnerable to erosion. That is why the recent storms have been so devastating. There was no earth to absorb this summer's deluge. Haiti is an example of how not to manage the environment. Why does Dr. Seuss' "The Lorax" come to mind? Do you remember the story about a "mossy, bossy" man-like creature who speaks for the trees?
According to an article in USA Today, over the past 20 years, the U.S. Agency for International Development has planted 60 million trees in Haiti, but the poor chop down 10 million to 20 million trees each year. At one time, Haiti was a country ripe for ecotourism. Today, it is a country in desperate need for fast-growing trees. In Haiti, there is a lesson for all of us. Taking trees for granted can be a deadly mistake.