Restoration Forestry and Ecology Trump Tree Plantations
Recent findings in climatic and biological science indicate that planted monocultural tree plantations make for biologically depauperate forests; are poor and impermanent carbon sinks; and provide few environmental, social or local economic benefits. It is also becoming apparent that given expected climatic feedbacks upon vegetation, that forests are a tenuous and potentially impermanent holder of carbon. While simply farming trees may yield relatively few ecological benefits in terms of biodiversity and climate change mitigation, the far more ambitious aspirations of restoration ecology and restoration forestry hold great potential to repair past ecological wounds and promote global ecological sustainability.
For tree planting to contribute meaningfully to climate change mitigation and biological diversity conservation, it is critical that the emphasis be upon expanding the size, connectivity and overall extent of diverse natural plant communities and their emergent ecosystem processes across landscapes. Far too much of the discussion regarding carbon sinks has revolved around promotion of industrial forest plantations. Sufficient responses to climate change (and biodiversity loss) require realization of a more ecologically rigorous vision of carbon sinks. More emphasis needs to be upon the types of restoration activities occurring in Brazil's Atlantic forests (more here).
There is no better climate policy than reducing emissions. However, to the extent that forests can sequester carbon, the most permanent and otherwise environmentally advantageous outcomes result from strictly protecting existing large, primary forests in order that their carbon remains fixed, and assisting remnants to naturally regenerate and expand. Restoration forestry seeks to wed rigorous ecological management to equitable social and sustainable economic benefits. Let us work together to usher in an era of ecological restoration marked by hope, equity, justice and sustainability.