Hard deforestation occurs when forested lands are clearcut and then compromised so that the trees cannot grow back. By contrast, soft deforestation happens when trees are cleared, but they later grow back. Biologists are very concerned about the effects of hard deforestation, as the permanent destruction of woodland areas around the world is a rapidly growing trend. Researchers in numerous nations including the United States and Great Britain are studying hard deforestation extensively and proposing plans to avert it.
New England offers some excellent examples of both soft and hard deforestation. When early settlers to the United States first reached New England, they cut down many trees for the purpose of developing agriculture. Over time, agricultural production shifted to other regions of the country, and these trees grew back; this is an example of soft deforestation, in which trees are removed but eventually replaced. Soft deforestation is also a common phenomenon in Europe. Biologists have noted that this second growth can actually be quite healthy, and that these once clearcut and now wooded lands provide numerous benefits to their communities.
The revival of forested land in New England is often touted by biologists, illustrating the way in which nature can recover from negative human activity. However, researchers at the Harvard Forest in Massachusetts have pointed out a disturbing and growing trend; the clearcutting of trees for the purpose of development, resulting in hard deforestation. In hard deforestation, wooded lands are replaced with roads, parking lots, malls, and developments, making it impossible for nature to recover itself. Hard deforestation, as a result, causes a permanent net decrease in wooded lands.
Woodlands are extremely valuable for a number of reasons. Environmentally, they help to sequester carbon emissions, provide habitat to animals, and also act as temperature regulators. In regions with parks and wooded areas, these natural features can help to reduce temperature swings, keeping the region cooler in summer and warmer in winter. Many people also simply enjoy woodlands, finding them beautiful and pleasant, and these individuals are concerned about the loss of quality of life which is caused by hard deforestation.
Organizations which are trying to combat hard deforestation want to encourage people to value forests as they are, without the need for development. Some of these groups also promote selective timber harvesting, which makes forested land valuable. Others suggest that woodlands could be stocked with game for hunting, or turned into pleasure parks for people to enjoy, thus creating intrinsic value for wooded areas.