Reforestation Guidelines Maximize Impact
After decades of deforestation, several projects hope to boost forest and landscape restoration around the world. International initiatives, including the Bonn Challenge and the New York Declaration on Forests have generated more than 60 commitments to restore 170 million hectares of deforested lands by 2030. The restoration plans will cost billions of dollars per year. Failure is not an option.
These ambitious tree-planting initiatives hope to sequester enormous quantities of carbon to partly compensate for anthropogenic CO2 emissions, which are a major cause of rising global temperatures. However, tree planting that is poorly planned and executed could actually increase CO2 emissions and have detrimental impacts on biodiversity, landscapes and livelihoods.
Many reforestation initiatives promote forest and landscape restoration (FLR)—an approach that aims to ‘regain ecological functionality and enhance human wellbeing in deforested or degraded landscapes. Unfortunately, concerns are growing that several FLR initiatives are falling short of their potential.
Negative outcomes are mostly associated with the extensive use of monoculture plantations, rather than restoration approaches that encourage a diverse mix of native tree species.
According to some experts, only a third of the commitments under the Bonn Challenge and other schemes aim to restore natural forests. To help assure maximum impact of FLR projects, forestry experts propose 10 guidelines:
- Protect existing forest first;
- Work with all stakeholders;
- Aim to maximize biodiversity recovery to meet multiple goals;
- Select appropriate areas for restoration;
- Use natural regeneration where possible;
- Select species to maximize biodiversity;
- Use resilient plant material (with appropriate genetic variability and provenance);
- Plan ahead for infrastructure, capacity, water and seed supply;
- Learn by doing (using an adaptive management approach); and
- Make it pay (ensuring the economic sustainability of the project).
Project leaders must focus on the design of long-term strategies to tackle the climate and biodiversity crises, while supporting livelihood needs. Leaders must include local communities as beneficiaries and sources of indigenous knowledge that can restore vital ecosystems.
While there is no single prescription for forest restoration, it is crucial to ensure interventions provide effective, long-term carbon sinks, while maximizing benefits for biodiversity and people.
Over the past 30 years, ecologists have transformed the concept of forest restoration to an attainable goal. Restoring forests around the world is possible and imperative.
Forest restoration success is strongly associated with the forest cover remaining within the landscape. Ensuring the persistence of native forests and integrating restoration with conservation practices and policies are key elements for reforestation.
Partnerships involving multiple stakeholders are likely to yield the most benefits. Overcoming the socio-economic and political barriers to forest restoration requires good governance, long-term funding mechanisms, enshrined legal protections for restored sites, and effective communication among stakeholders at the science–policy–practice interface.