Years of burning the Amazon Basin forests have created dry conditions that increase the chance of more fires and makes restoration more difficult. Restoration and sustainable forest management are possible in all of the world’s tropical forests, but time is running out. Success in restoration and sustainable harvesting will come about only if both rural villages and national governments agree to the same plan.
Restoration involves activities that enable a degraded forest to recover its health and return to normal growth. Restoration methods make up a science called restoration ecology, which is the transformation of land back to its original state, or close to its original state, after being damaged by human activities. Restoration of tropical forests consists of three main techniques: reforestation, rehabilitation of degraded forests, and conversion of damaged areas to sustainable forestry.
The United States and many other countries have used reforestation to restore land that had been cleared of its forests. Reforestation involves the planting of hundreds of seedlings containing a mixed population of native trees, followed by the return of forest in the seeded areas to near their original condition within 100 to 500 years, depending on the type of trees.
In 1977 environmentalist Wangari Muta Maathai began the women’s Green Belt Movement in her native Kenya for the purpose of restoring the country’s tropical forests. Maathai inspired the group to build nurseries, raise seedlings, and plant new trees. Maathai described her country in her 2006 book, Unbowed: “At the time of my birth , the land around Ihithe was still lush, green, and fertile . . . We lived in a land abundant with shrubs, creepers, ferns, and trees, like the mitundu, mukeu, and migumo, some of which produced berries and nuts. Because rain fell regularly and reliably, clean drinking water was everywhere. There were large, wellwatered fields of maize, beans, wheat, and vegetables. Hunger was virtually unknown. The soil was rich, dark red-brown, and moist.” By the time Maathai finished Unbowed, the situation in Kenya had undergone a drastic change. “The [European] missionaries were followed [in the 1800s] by traders and administrators who introduced new methods of exploiting our rich natural resources: logging, clear-cutting native forests, establishing plantations of imported trees, hunting wildlife, and undertaking expansive commercial agriculture. Hallowed landscapes lost their sacredness; local people became insensitive to the destruction, accepting it as a sign of progress.” Maathai’s Green Belt Movement had by 2004 planted a seedling for each citizen of Kenya—more than 30 million trees—that received legal protections from the government. Wangari Maathai was awarded the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for her restoration program, which became a model for other countries in tropical Africa.
Rehabilitation consists of a variety of techniques like those used by the Green Belt Movement to restore partially degraded forests. Depending on the tropical forest’s condition, rehabilitation may include restoration of soil nutrients, selection of new plantings for fire or disease resistance, or selection of species for erosion control. Small clearings of tropical forest recover faster than large swaths of cut areas, especially when healthy forest surrounds them. Rehabilitated areas produce secondary forest, which contains less plant diversity than old-growth or primary forests, but over the long term these forests build good plant and animal diversity.
In addition to restoration of damaged land and rehabilitation of damaged forest, a third option involves sustainable harvesting, also called sustainable forestry. Sustainable harvesting relies on the concept that forests must be managed as a nonrenewable resource. Though tropical forests renew themselves over a span of years, the current rate of destruction—0.2 percent per year—will eliminate them faster than they can rebound.
Sustainable harvesting methods allow loggers to remove the timber they need while reducing damage to untouched trees. Sustainable harvesting rejects the use of clear-cutting or slash-and-burn methods. Instead, timber companies use techniques that are gentler on the forest ecosystem, called reduced impact logging techniques. The following list provides the main reduced impact techniques that could help conserve tropical forests:
» preharvest mapping and selecting trees of commercial value
» cutting canopy vines before felling trees to prevent damage to the surrounding canopy
» building narrow roads or trails through the forest to reach cuttings, rather than clear-cutting for major roads
» employing directional tree felling to reduce damage to standing trees
» reduction of wood waste by cutting stumps low to the ground
» protecting watersheds with stream buffer zones
» use of low-impact yarding systems—methods for hauling timber from forests to trucks
» incorporating restoration and rehabilitation methods in logging areas
» preventing illegal logging
» developing tree plantations on severely degraded land to prevent erosion and desertification
» performing post-harvest assessments to develop constant improvements
In countries where the government owns and controls most of the tropical forest, economics determine the decisions on traditional versus sustainable forestry. In good economic times, developing countries have a greater willingness to follow environmentally sound forestry. In depressed economic times, however, the government may begin selling timber at below-market value, and subsistence farmers may cut down more trees for cultivation or fuel. This means that big business must also accept a philosophy of conservation in order to save the forests. In 2008 Brazil’s Blairo Maggi, governor of a state with high soybean production, declared to Folha de São Paulo newspaper, “With the worsening of the global food crisis, the time is coming when it will be inevitable to discuss whether we preserve the environment or produce more food. There is no way to produce more food without occupying more land and taking down more trees.” The forest biome therefore remains very vulnerable to human needs.
Source of Information : Green Technology Conservation Protecting Our Plant Resources