Good news this month, as researchers share their findings on forest regeneration across the world. A forest area the size of France, nearly 59 million hectares, has regrown in the past 20 years. According to calculations, this new forest has the potential to store 5.9 gigaton of carbon dioxide. To let that sink in, a gigaton is one trillion kilograms. That is more than the United States emit, or India, Russia and Japan together, on an annual basis. However, the overall area of forest cover continues to shrink, as deforestation occurs faster dan reforestation.
Forces of Nature
Scientists and experts have been calling for the halt of deforestation for many years. The rate at which our precious forests are disappearing is alarming. Forests not only provide the world with oxygen it needs to breath, it also helps to cool down climate, store carbon dioxide and many more things. It is the home of countless species, both animal and plants, that rely on forests for their survival. In order to create a sustainable future for mankind, we must allow forest to recover as nature intends. To benefit ecosystems, communities and the climate.
Back in 2018, the Trillion Trees initiative, with the support from WWF, commissioned a mapping survey to find the regeneration hotspots. It’s aim was to find those spots in the world where the forests are growing and becoming stronger. And more specifically, why specifically in those locations.
What is regeneration actually?
The basics of regeneration are quite simple, and sound much like the Wilderness ideology: let nature be guided by natural, open-ended processes. Or as some like to say ‘Let nature be nature!’. When looking at areas that suffered heavily from deforestation, people might want to help nature to get started. In severe cases, where nature is very unlikely to restore forests in a timespan that fits human perception, active restoration can take place. Such efforts include the planting of native trees and shrubs, including agroforestry approaches for example.
In other places where forests are likely to recover by itself, but might be hindered due to human impact, we tend to use ‘assisted natural regeneration’. This includes the removal of invasive species, or protecting certain areas from future negative impacts (e.g. grazing). This is something we often see in rewilding practices, where conservationists prepare semi-natural areas to become natural again.
And then there are areas that are highly likely to fully recover by itself. Here we speak about spontaneous natural regeneration, where people simply take their hands off. It does not require human input, not even knowledge, some might say. This principle aligns mostly with the European Wilderness principles.
Regeneration and deforestation hotspots
The analysis on regeneration showed that there are certain regeneration hotspots where much of the forest is now restored. In the Atlantic forests of Brazil, an area the size of The Netherlands has regrown since 2000. In the boreal forests of Mongolia, another 1.2 million hectares of forest re-appeared due to conservation efforts. Furthermore, parts of Arica and Canada show strong trends in forest regeneration.
Yet, the area of regenerated forest is about 7 times smaller than the area of forest the world lost in the same time span. According to studies from WWF, we lost 386 million hectares of tree cover worldwide. This is more than the surface of entire India. Most of the forest disappears for timber production, or to make way fore agriculture. Especially in the Amazon forests, the deforestation rates continue to be worrying. Indeed, the science is clear: healthy ecosystems benefit humanity (and the world) more than degraded ones. Not only in ecosystem services, but also from a financial perspective.
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