Environment

Enough forest has naturally regrown since 2000 to cover mainland France

Enough forest has naturally re...
Forest canopy in Gabon
Forest canopy in Gabon
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Forest canopy in Gabon
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Forest canopy in Gabon

In what's described as the first thorough study to track natural forest expansion, researchers have found that an area larger than mainland France has regenerated since the year 2000. While deforestation continues to pose a grave threat to the world's biodiversity, the study does emphasize the potential of natural regeneration to help tackle the problem, which offers a number of benefits over active replantation strategies.

The research was published by Trillion Trees (a collaboration between the World Wildlife Fund, BirdLife International and the Wildlife Conservation Society) and focuses on natural forest regeneration, where these ecosystems are either left to recover on their own or given a little nudge along the way.

This can include active restoration and planting of trees in areas where land is degraded, but also more passive techniques such as clearing away invasive vegetation, adding fencing, or simply doing nothing at all. Compared to large-scale active planting, natural regeneration is up to 76 percent cheaper, promotes higher biodiversity of plants and animal species and offers advantages for pollination, water and the health of the soil.

The new analysis draws on 30 years of satellite data and surveys from experts on the ground, to gauge how much of an impact natural regeneration has had on the world's forest coverage since 2000. This culminated in a map developed through a "rigorous scientific approach," illustrating how much has been regrown and where hotspots lie across the globe.

This revealed that nearly 59 million hectares of forest have regrown since 2000, enough to store the equivalent of 5.9 gigatons of CO2, which is more than the annual emissions of the US. Brazil's Atlantic Forest is one example of a hotspot, where 4.2 million hectares have regrown, or an area around the size of the Netherlands. In Mongolia's boreal forests, meanwhile, 1.2 million hectares have regrown.

While these findings around naturally regenerating forests is undoubtedly a good thing, deforestation continues at an alarming rate and it will take a lot of work to arrest the slide. According to the UN, 420 million hectares of global forest were lost between 1990 and 2020. The annual rate of deforestation is slowing, however, at an estimated 10 million hectares a year between 2015 and 2020, down from 16 million hectares per year in the 1990s.

The hope is that this new map can act as a tool for conservationists and policy makers to leverage the ability of natural habitats to recover when allowed to do so, and promote these processes in other locations on larger and larger scales.

“Even though this is an exploratory effort, it still highlights the potential that enabling and consolidating regeneration has for mitigating climate change and securing its biodiversity benefits,” said Naikoa Aguilar-Amuchastegui, senior director of forest carbon science at WWF and data analysis team lead. “However, this remains difficult to map and a lot of additional work lies ahead.”

You can check out the map and learn more about the project here.

Source: WWF

4 comments
4 comments
Daishi
"This revealed that nearly 59 million hectares of forest have regrown since 2000" and "420 million hectares of global forest were lost between 1990 and 2020". So I am guessing the 59 million hectares isn't a net total add but rather some areas saw growth but more area saw deforestation meaning we are still moving in the direction of deforestation as a whole?
Username
@Daishi your guess is correct.
aksdad
This is no surprise. It has been long known that the U.S. has more tree cover now than it did a century ago. Contributing to this regrowth of trees is logging companies. They plant trees because they realized that since they are a renewable resource they can be grown and harvested like any other crop. Technological improvements in agriculture also helped, producing more food from less land. And people wanting to preserve wild places for their aesthetic benefits led to legislation to set aside large tracts. These are trends seen in most post-industrial countries that have become wealthy. The same behavior will likely happen in poor countries where clear-cutting is fairly intense right now. Give them time and they will probably evolve from subsistence economies to ones that protect and restore some of their forests. There's nothing we in wealthy nations need to do, or can do, except encourage the governments of those countries to facilitate economic growth and ultimately be able to afford to protect their natural assets.
ljaques
What I can't figure out is why eco-aware countries haven't been producing and shipping to Brazil, etc. large quantities of topsoil. The farmers in those countries slash and burn 10 acres, farm it for two years, and the soil is dead, so they move to another 10 acres. Or showing them how to build their own fertile soil. Why isn't this being done?