The areas in the middle latitudes are characterized by four distinct seasons: the temperature is neither too high nor too low and the rains are well distributed around the year. In these areas forests can grow, however human activities are progressively cutting them. In a mixed forest, in autumn, a burst of colours comes alight: from the green leaves of the evergreens to the rowns, yellows, oranges and reds of the deciduous trees. The fallen leaves add nutrient substances to the ground, and in spring, before the new leaves bud, there is enough light for flowers to loom.
South of the taiga is the broad-leaved temperate forest or deciduous forest, occupying large part of Europe, China and the United States, i.e. approximately 5% of the lands above sea level. The adjective ‘deciduous’ comes from the Latin de cadere and refers to the fact that leaves fall off these plants during the cold season. In these areas, temperatures differ remarkably from one season to the other: warm and wet in summer and cold in winter. Leaves fall in winter to avoid a useless loss of water through transpiration. As to the climate, the rainfall here is approximately 300-1200 mm, steadily falling all through the year: there is no dry season. Summer generally lasts 4 to 6 months, and is very fertile for the vegetation, while in winter most plants stop growing. Winters are however much milder than at higher latitudes: even in the coldest days the daily minima never drop below -2°C.
Deciduous temperate forests can almost only be found in the boreal hemisphere, in which three main areas can be distinguished. In Europe, the deciduous and mixed forest area extends from the British islands to France and to all Central and Eastern Europe through to the Urals; in eastern Asia, they are spread in the far east of Russia, in Manchuria, Korea and Japan; in north America they occupy a large part of the area between the Great Lakes, the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico south. Although separated by thousands of kilometres, these deciduous forests are similar not only in the way they look, but also in the species of plants they are made of, even if with some differences depending on the geological history of these regions during and after the ice age.
Plants of the temperate forest
Unlike tropical forests, temperate forests have just two layers of vegetation. The tallest trees have their foliage generally about 15-30 m above ground and a layer of shrubs and smaller trees underneath, at approximately 5-10 m. This is why the soil receives more light than in tropical forests and the undergrowth is luxuriant: ferns, mosses and lichens, especially in very rainy areas.
During the spring growth, i.e. when the tree foliage has not completely formed yet, there is plenty of light reaching the ground and this makes plants grow on the ground. This is why many of the species that live on the ground grow, flower and bear fruits before late summer. Later on, sciophilus plants, i.e. plants that like shade, start to grow.
Exploiting natural woods is not enough to meet all demand, and trees have begun to be grown to make timber. Poplars are perfect to fulfil these purposes since in very few years (10 –12) they grow very tall so that they can be used in many different ways (plywood, particle panels, cellulose paste, toothpicks, matches, etc.). While in the beginning native trees were used, now the trees used are hybrids selected for growth, wood quality, resistance to parasites and diseases. Poplar groves find their ideal location along the Po banks since they need plenty of light and soils that are fairly loose, airy and that can be irrigated.
Animals of the temperate forest
Unlike tropical forests, this biome contains very few mammals, because there is no complex series of layers and the vegetation is seasonal. During autumn, the animals of this biome feed on and lay in stores for the winter; in particular, they like walnuts and winged seeds which actually keep a long time. The fruits of the apple-tree, the rose, the hawthorn, the gooseberry and others tend instead to ripen all at the same time (about late summer) and are used therefore during the summer to store fat.
Brown bears (Ursus arctos) prefer forest environments, even if they adapt to a wide variety of habitats. In Italy, they only live on mountains which are largely covered with woods and have a steep morphology, since they keep away from those areas which are excessively disturbed by men. They tend to live in woods mainly in the spring and autumn, while in the summer bears tend to stay in shrubby and grassy areas, at higher altitudes. During the winter, they prefer steep rocky areas, where they can find caves or at least gorges to dig out dens for hibernation.
Birds in the forest
Some birds, including songbirds, migrate south after storing enough fat. These include goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis), which live almost everywhere in Europe, except Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden and northern Russia. They live in mixed woods, gardens and bushes located in open areas. They feed on aphids, shoots and seeds, especially thistle seeds. They build their nests 8-10 metres high on broad-leaved or coniferous branches; their nests have thick walls, often made of fibres, moss, wool. The females hatch the eggs, while both parents take care of the brood.
The history of forests
During the ice age, since there was no mountain ridge in north America to stop ice from moving forward (the main ridges, the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachian Mountains, run north to south), ice moved south, causing temperate forests to withdraw. In Europe, instead, the Alps and the Pyrenees prevented ice from moving forward, thus stopping forests from moving away from the north. Many species of plants could not spread too much because of the glaciers moving powerfully forward, and so they disappeared.
The area historically occupied by deer probably extended across most parts of peninsular Italy and Sardinia. Starting from the 17th century, the transformations in the environment, the growth of the human population and the intensification of hunting activities, caused the progressive disappearance of the species from increasingly vast sectors of the Italian territory. At the end of the 19th century, there was only a small population of deer in the Bosco della Mesola (the Mesola forest) near the delta of the river Po, and another in Sardinia.
Woodwork in Italy is an extremely old tradition which has been developing highly creative and top-quality products since the 16th century. Mainly developed as a craft, the real furniture-making industry was born between the Fifties and the Sixties. It was just over these two decades that the great strongholds of Italian furniture-making developed in Brianza, Triveneto, in the Pesaro area and in Tuscany. In 1995, there were approximately 35,000 Italian furniture-making companies, employing 250,000 people and topping a turnover of approximately 30 billion euros, approximately 14,000 of which are made up by exports. Italy is the leading exporter of furniture and interior decoration in Europe. In just a few years, “made in Italy” furnishings have become sought after all over the world. A lot of timber is required to meet market requirements. The paper-making industry also requires a lot of feed stock. Just think that the European Union is the second largest producer in the world (after the USA and Japan) and Italy is top of the list. In our country, paper and cardboard making reached 8.9 million tons in 2001.
Wooden musical instruments. Violins, cellos and contrabasses are built by luthiers. Their soundboxes are made of spruce and maple wood, while other parts of these instruments are made with such exotic trees as rosewood and ebony. Violins are made of more than 60 pieces each. But also many other orchestra instruments (for example wind instruments) are made of wood. To make a piano, fir, beech and lime wood is needed, for a total of 2 cube metres of wood.
Different types of firewood. Not all woods burn in the same way. Hornbeam wood is the one that supplies most heat as it burns; beech comes second. Oak is chosen instead to produce coals because it lasts longer. Wood from resinous trees heats faster, but not for as long.
Food from the forest
Forests have always been essential to man: as food, for industries and even for health. Oaks for instance is appreciated for its wood, which is very good quality and is sold at a high price to cabinetmakers and carpenters. Oak wood is used to make valuable furniture, veneers and often wine casks. Plants used for food include walnut trees, which are also widely appreciated for the quality of their wood, which is used in high-quality carpentry, and chestnut trees. Chestnuts trees, native to the Mediterranean regions, are generally grown for their fruits, the chestnuts, which are eaten cooked or ground into flour to make bread.
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…
Tourism-related activities are the largest economical sector in the world, since they contribute either directly and indirectly to approximately 7% of the world’s production and offer thousands of jobs worldwide. For many countries, tourism is one of the greatest sources of work and income. It is important, therefore, to raise people’s awareness of the disturbance tourists inevitably cause to the environment with which they interact, and to promote conscientious tourism, or eco-tourism. It can actually protect the natural wealth by finding how to minimise negative effects.
The importance of a forest
Woods can be divided into two categories: natural and artificial. The first category includes native, ancient woods or woods that were artificial at first and have then naturalised. The second category includes only artificial woods or woods that have been planted only to be felled. The essential functions of a wood can be grouped into three categories: productive function, ecological-protective function, aesthetic-recreational function. The first one is essentially aimed at forestry as well as to commercial exploitation for wood products, such as fruits (chestnuts, pine nuts, etc.), bark, resins, rubber, …
Until the past century paper was generally made from rags, rope or hemp, a method which went into crisis especially due to continuous epidemics of plague which drove people to burn contaminated clothes and rags causing a drastic reduction in raw material. To make paper, a valid substitute for rags is certainly wood which has much lower costs. The best paper is made from some conifers such as firs and pines or broad-leaved trees such as eucalyptus, birch and poplar. Also other types of trees, though, are currently used: in Indonesia, for example, trees are drawn directly from the tropical forest to create MTH cellulose (Mixed Tropical Hardwood). The quality of this paper is poorer but with no doubt it’s less expensive to cut a forest of full-grown trees rather than planting more suitable trees as acacias and waiting for them to grow. This has led to the destruction of thousand of hectares of forest not only in Brazil, as public opinion might think, but also in countries as Canada, Indonesia, Finland, Russia and Africa. If we consider that two thirds of animal and plant species have their habitat in various forest ecosystems and that woods and forests produce oxygen which is absolutely indispensable for our existence along with water, which is another primary resource in great danger, it’s easy to understand that we absolutely need to implement a change in our behaviour as introducing the use of recycled paper or FSC certified paper (Forest Stewardship Council).
Alternative Materials to Wood
Many studies have been recently undertaken to find alternative materials to avoid the production of paper using traditional wood. In particular, some materials have been selected: herbal essences such as straw; oatgrass residues as corn, wheat and rice; residues of the processing of sugar cane and sugar beet; residues of juicing citrus fruits, especially oranges and lemons;
marine surplus as algae; particular plants as sorghum, cotton, flax and kenaf that has fibers very similar to those of conifers and for this reason is suitable for the production of both mechanical or chemical pastes for paper making.
The Italian paper industry uses more and more waste paper. The terms waste paper or recycled fibers refer to paper which has already served its fabrication purpose and is recycled within a productive cycle. A feature of cellulose, infact, is that it can be used multiple times. Fiber recycling can be made only a limited number of times from 5 to 7 times, as during every recovering cycle, fibers deteriorate. Poor quality material coming from pulping is generally used to make cardboard and the best pulping material, instead, is used to make printing paper or other special papers.
Production of waste paper
The production of waste paper is very similar to the production of virgin fibers, although a different mixture preparation is required. In fact, during this phase all alien materials which could contaminate production, as iron, plastic glues, glass, paraffins, etc., need to be removed from the pulping process. The presence of these materials, infact, influences the quality of paper and creates problems during the production process. Paper is later reduced in pulp and filtered through a series of strainers which initially remove the coarser parts and progressively eliminate the smallest ones. Producing recycled printing paper requires in-depth straining. Starting from cheap raw materials to obtain paper with a sufficient degree of white, deinking is employed to remove ink present in the pulping process.
Certification according to FSC
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international non-governmental, not for profit organization. It was established in 1993 to promote responsible management of world’s forests and plantations. ‘Responsible management’ means: safeguarding natural environment, delivering real benefits to populations, local communities, and workers, ensuring economic efficiency. FSC members are: environmental and social groups (Greenpeace, WWF, Legambiente, Amnesty International, etc.), native communities, forest owners, industries processing and commercializing timber, companies in large-scale distribution, researchers and specialists, certification bodies, citizens and anybody sharing the goals of the organisation.
What you can do for forests
Paper recycling. We should remember the importance of paper recycling, infact, recycling 1.000 kg of newspapers:
- saves 17 trees;
- eliminates 3 cubic metres of inert waste;
- saves 31,780 litres of water;
- produces 75% less air pollution;
- produces 35% less water pollution;
- saves sufficient energy to provide a 6-month domestic supply;
- consumes half energy (57%) in comparison to the energy required to produce one ton of virgin fiber paper.