Billion hectares of forests with potential for restoration, study shows

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Land areas around the world, bigger in combined size than Canada, have been identified as having potential to be restored to good quality, healthy forests, so a new study has found.

As the global effort to help tackle climate change by reversing the earth’s alarming loss of forests steps up, scientists using sophisticated satellite mapping have produced a world map identifying areas in which more than a billion hectares of former forest land and degraded forest land has restoration potential.

That is about six per cent of the planet’s total land area.

Restoring forests to some of these lands could be achieved without prejudicing other vital land uses, such as food production.

The Global Partnership on Forest Restoration (GPFLR) says that the needs and rights of indigenous peoples and others who are dependent on forests must be respected when considering restoration projects. GPFLR will now work with individual countries and local communities to deliver restoration where communities benefit.

The Global Partnership on Forest Landscape Restoration brings together a range of organisations from the public, private and voluntary sectors around the world to work together to encourage and facilitate the restoration of forest landscapes.

“With a global population already approaching seven billion, and forecast to increase to more than eight billion by 2025, the pressure on all of our natural resources is immense,” says Tim Rollinson, Chairman of the GPFLR and Director-General of the British Forestry Commission. “At the same time, the Earth’s forests continue to shrink, and what’s left is increasingly being degraded. We know how to restore forests and make them sustainable. We now also know where we should do it, so we should be getting on with it.”

“Forest restoration experiences around the world provide evidence that, while it is impossible to replace a pristine forest once it’s gone, many of the functions it originally provided can be restored,” says Stewart Maginnis, Director of IUCN Environment and Development Group. “Forests provide such vital services, like clean water and fresh air, that we can win on all fronts by bringing them back to life. We need to protect the forests we have left, and restore what we’ve lost.”

Unless I am mistaken from what I have been hearing and reading as to the material from the IUCN and others all they are talking about seem to be the restoration of tropical and other such kind of forests.

What seem to get forgotten are the forests in the Northern Hemisphere, such as in Europe per se, and also forgotten in that equation are the boreal forests, which sequestrate more carbon than the tropical rainforests; four times more.

While the Amazon forests are indeed important, as well as other such forests, as they can be seen as climate kitchens, they are not the ones that do all the work. In fact the forests of the Taiga are much better in that.

Forests once covered more than 50 per cent of the world’s land area. Today that figure is below 30 per cent as a consequence of humans removing forests for unsustainable logging and conversion to other land uses, such as cropping, grazing, industry, and towns and cities. Deforestation continues to be a problem, especially in countries in tropical regions, but the forest area in many countries in temperate regions is increasing. For example, the forest area in Europe increased by an estimated 13 million hectares – about the size of Greece – between 1990 and 2005. However, the rate of deforestation continues to outstrip the rate of reforestation, so that globally the world continued to lose a net 7 million hectares a year – almost the area of Scotland – between 2000 and 2005.

Forests act as giant carbon ‘sinks’, or stores, holding billions of tonnes of carbon in their plants and soils. When forests are removed and not replanted or regenerated, much of this carbon is emitted to the atmosphere, contributing to the global warming that is causing climate change.

It is therefore important that we looked at restoring many more forests and, in addition to restoring existing forest ecosystem, we established new forests with native woods and as mixed woods rather than as mono-cultures, that are well managed and cared for.

Having said this, though, I would like to add that even commercial mono-cultures are better than no forests and especially if managed sustainably. And it is sustainable management that must be at the forefront of all commercial forestry operations nowadays.

However, too many operations, such as done by the likes of Kimberly-Clark in Canada, are simple clear felling of ancient woodlands without any thought for the future. Proper commercial forest management is a different thing and always has been.

The lands that have been identified around the world as being capable of having their forests restored should but be a small part of the new forests that we should consider establishing around the globe.

Only recently it was also found, with regards to the Black Earth areas of the Amazon jungle that it was not always forest. In fact up till the seventeenth century much of the area along the river was, in fact, the open country with cities, farms and fields. An agrarian society of great size that was decimated by the diseases that were brought to them by the Spanish and Portuguese.

It took less than a few hundred years for the forest to claim the lands that were no longer being cultivated and the jungle closed up.

The people that for the indigenous peoples there today many are the remnants of the once great agrarian societies along that great river and the survivors of the plagues that came with the White Men. Only one out of ten survived and they retreated into the forests, away from the invaders.

This shows that the forests of the Amazon have a capability to restore themselves, if given the chance, and more so even with our help.

The same is true for woods and forests in Europe and, with proper agricultural practices neither have to suffer. In fact, if forests farms were employed both could live comfortably side by side.

© 2010