What is forest and landscape restoration?
Forest and landscape restoration turns barren or degraded areas of land into healthy, fertile, working landscapes where local communities, ecosystems and other stakeholders can cohabit, sustainably. To be successful, it needs to involve everyone with a stake in the landscape, to design the right solutions and build lasting relationships.
Forest and landscape restoration (FLR) is not just about trees. Trying to put the forest back the way it was is one possible restoration strategy, but there are many others that sometimes have to be woven together to tailor a solution that’s right for the setting and for all those with a stake in the forest.
The goal, in each case, is to revitalize the landscape so that it can meet the needs of people and the natural environment, sustainably.
The benefits of FLR can be felt immediately, through job creation and carbon sequestration. But there is no magical, one-size-fits-all blueprint. A restored landscape can accommodate a mosaic of different land uses, such as agriculture, protected wildlife reserves, ecological corridors, regenerated forests, managed plantations, agroforestry systems and river or lakeside plantings to protect waterways.
FLR only works on a scale that can accommodate a balanced package of forest functions. Only when large areas of landscape are treated as a whole can different interests be reconciled and issues such as biodiversity conservation and watershed management be tackled in a coordinated way. But the size and nature of the landscape can only be determined locally; it is whatever makes sense for generating the benefits that people need and for improving the integrity of the ecosystems.
Although the benefits can be felt immediately, FLR is not a short-term fix, either. It is a long-term solution requiring the commitment of communities, companies, landowners, administrators and politicians. Simply planting trees and crossing fingers doesn’t work. The needs of forest stakeholders change over time, and solutions have to be adaptable and flexible enough to channel those needs towards sustainable practices that benefit all in the long-term.
Why restore degraded and deforested lands?
For economic reasons as well as the most pressing environmental ones, we should commit ourselves to forest and landscape restoration. Putting back lost forests and reviving landscapes can restore their vital functions, cool the planet, protect wildlife and rescue lives, sustainably and economically.
Some people might ask, isn’t it enough to simply put the brakes on deforestation? Do we also need to actively restore cleared landscapes?
The damage has been done – but it can be reversed.
Everyone knows that deforestation has accelerated global warming; that having fewer trees and less forest has left more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and left our planet more exposed to the sun. Regenerating and revitalizing forests as part of landscape restoration projects would give us back some of that capacity to sequester carbon and slow down climate change.
But there are plenty of other reasons why we need to start reversing the spiral of loss and degradation. Healthy, fertile landscapes provide homes for wildlife and human life, providing food, clean water and materials for shelter. Sustainably cultivated and farmed woodlands yield biofuel and raw products that can be worked or processed for trade, stimulating local industry and creating jobs.
There are opportunities to grow new crops where trees once stood that can be harvested for agriculture. Trees in agricultural landscapes could improve soil moisture and fertility, and boost food production. And responsible tourism and other services can be developed as part of the rehabilitation mix. All of these forms of sustainable enterprise can inject new income and new life into threatened communities, relieving poverty and funding improvements in education.
The environmental rewards of landscape rehabilitation are huge. The economic rewards are just as great. It has been estimated that the restoration of 150 million hectares of former forest land around the world – as promised by the Bonn Challenge – would pump US$ 85billion a year into national and global economies.
It’s an opportunity we can’t afford to waste.