Every 24 hours, about 120,000 acres of tropical forest is cleared - chopped down by commercial loggers or burned to clear land for farming. At that rate, those forests will disappear in another 30 years and scientists are worried about the prospect.

The huge forests help provide the biological machinery that keeps the atmosphere breathable by absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen. Loss of the forests could have serious impact on the world's environment.In addition, the forests are the globe's genetic reservoir for tens of thousands of species of plants, insects, animals and medicines. Secrets to the world's problems of food and fuel are still locked in them.

Where the logging and burning take place, there are devastating changes. Without the forest to soak up and hold water, nearby farmland suffers both drought and floods; food output slumps.

Scientists fear that in only three more years, the forests of Madagascar and coastal Ecuador will be gone. In 13 years, some forests in Central America, West Africa, the Himalayan foothills, parts of Southeast Asia and certain Pacific Islands will be close to destruction. Even the seemingly endless Amazon Basin is threatened.

No one is suggesting that the $5 billion to $8 billion tropical logging industry be shut down. But there obviously needs to be some limits set on how much is cut and where. The world needs a replanting program, much like the American logging industry uses domestically. Otherwise, the wood cutters will put themselves right out of business - a short-sighted approach, indeed.

Unfortunately, most nations fail to act until faced with total disaster, and 30 years seems a long way off.

Meanwhile, billions of dollars worth of remarkable forest is being swept away. Once gone, they are gone for good.