Reforestation is the natural or intentional restocking of existing forests and woodlands that have been depleted, usually through deforestation. Reforestation can be used to rectify or improve the quality of human life by soaking up pollution and dust from the air, rebuild natural habitats and ecosystems, mitigate global warming since forests facilitate biosequestration of atmospheric carbon dioxide, and harvest for resources, particularly timber, but also non-timber forest products.
- For harvesting
- For climate change mitigation
- On abandoned farmland
- Land rights
- Sub Saharan Africa
- United States
The term reforestation is similar to afforestation, the process of restoring and recreating areas of woodlands or forests that may have existed long ago but were deforested or otherwise removed at some point in the past. Sometimes the term re-afforestation is used to distinguish between the original forest cover and the later re-growth of forest to an area. Forestation is the establishment of forest growth on areas that either had forest or lacked it.
Special tools, e.g. tree planting bars, are used to make planting of trees easier and faster.
A debated issue in managed reforestation is whether or not the succeeding forest will have the same biodiversity as the original forest. If the forest is replaced with only one species of tree and all other vegetation is prevented from growing back, a monoculture forest similar to agricultural crops would be the result. However, most reforestation involves the planting of different seedlots of seedlings taken from the area, often of multiple species. Another important factor is the natural regeneration of a wide variety of plant and animal species that can occur on a clear cut. In some areas the suppression of forest fires for hundreds of years has resulted in large single aged and single species forest stands. The logging of small clear cuts and/or prescribed burning, actually increases the biodiversity in these areas by creating a greater variety of tree stand ages and species.
Reforestation need not be only used for recovery of accidentally destroyed forests. In some countries, such as Finland, many of the forests are managed by the wood products and pulp and paper industry. In such an arrangement, like other crops, trees are planted to replace those that have been cut. In such circumstances, the industry can cut the trees in a way to allow easier reforestation. The wood products industry systematically replaces many of the trees it cuts, employing large numbers of summer workers for tree planting work. For example, in 2010, Weyerhaeuser reported planting 50 million seedlings. However replanting an old-growth forest with a plantation is not replacing the old with the same characteristics in the new.
In just 20 years, a teak plantation in Costa Rica can produce up to about 400 m³ of wood per hectare. As the natural teak forests of Asia become more scarce or difficult to obtain, the prices commanded by plantation-grown teak grows higher every year. Other species such as mahogany grow more slowly than teak in Tropical America but are also extremely valuable. Faster growers include pine, eucalyptus, and Gmelina.
Reforestation, if several indigenous species are used, can provide other benefits in addition to financial returns, including restoration of the soil, rejuvenation of local flora and fauna, and the capturing and sequestering of 38 tons of carbon dioxide per hectare per year.
The reestablishment of forests is not just simple tree planting. Forests are made up of a community of species and they build dead organic matter into soils over time. A major tree-planting program could enhance the local climate and reduce the demands of burning large amounts of fossil fuels for cooling in the summer.
For climate change mitigation
Forests are an important part of the global carbon cycle because trees and plants absorb carbon dioxide through photosynthesis. By removing this greenhouse gas from the air, forests function as terrestrial carbon sinks, meaning they store large amounts of carbon. At any time, forests account for as much as double the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Even as more anthropogenic carbon is produced, forests remove around three billion tons of anthropogenic carbon every year. This amounts to about 30% of all carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels. Therefore, an increase in the overall forest cover around the world would tend to mitigate global warming.
There are four major strategies available to mitigate carbon emissions through forestry activities: increase the amount of forested land through a reforestation process; increase the carbon density of existing forests at a stand and landscape scale; expand the use of forest products that will sustainably replace fossil-fuel emissions; and reduce carbon emissions that are caused from deforestation and degradation.
Achieving the first strategy would require enormous and wide-ranging efforts. However, there are many organizations around the world that encourage tree-planting as a way to offset carbon emissions for the express purpose of fighting climate change. For example, in China, the Jane Goodall Institute, through their Shanghai Roots & Shoots division, launched the Million Tree Project in Kulun Qi, Inner Mongolia to plant one million trees to stop desertification and help curb climate change. China has used 24 billion metres squared of new forest plantation and natural forest regrowth to offset 21% of Chinese fossil fuel emissions in 2000. In Java, Indonesia each newlywed couple is to give whoever is sermonizing their wedding 5 seedlings to combat global warming. Each couple that wishes to have a divorce has to give 25 seedlings to whoever divorces them.
The second strategy has to do with selecting species for tree-planting. In theory, planting any kind of tree to produce more forest cover would absorb more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. On the other hand, a genetically modified tree specimen might grow much faster than any other regular tree. Some of these trees are already being developed in the lumber and biofuel industries. These fast-growing trees would not only be planted for those industries but they can also be planted to help absorb carbon dioxide faster than slow-growing trees.
Extensive forest resources placed anywhere in the world will not always have the same impact. For example, large reforestation programs in boreal or subarctic regions have a limited impact on climate mitigation. This is because it substitutes a bright snow-dominated region that reflects the sunlight with dark forest canopies. A study from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, USA, found that trees in temperate latitudes have a net warming effect on the atmosphere. The heat that dark leaves release without absorbing outweighs the carbon they sequester. On the other hand, a positive example would be reforestation projects in tropical regions, which would lead to a positive biophysical change such as the formation of clouds. These clouds would then reflect the sunlight, creating a positive impact on climate mitigation.
There is an advantage to planting trees in tropical climates with wet seasons. In such a setting, trees have a quicker growth rate because they can grow year-round. Trees in tropical climates have, on average, larger, brighter, and more abundant leaves than non-tropical climates. A study of the girth of 70,000 trees across Africa has shown that tropical forests are soaking up more carbon dioxide pollution than previously realized. The research suggests almost one fifth of fossil fuel emissions are absorbed by forests across Africa, the Amazon basin and Asia. Simon Lewis, a climate expert at the University of Leeds, who led the study, said: "Tropical forest trees are absorbing about 18% of the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere each year from burning fossil fuels, substantially buffering the rate of change."
It is also important to deal with the rate of deforestation. At this point, there are 13 billion metres squared of tropical regions that are deforested every year. There is potential for these regions to reduce rates of deforestation by 50% by 2050, which would be a huge contribution to stabilize the global climate.
On abandoned farmland
With increased intensive agriculture and urbanization, there is an increase in the amount of abandoned farmland. By some estimates, for every half a hectare of original old-growth forest cut down, more than 20 hectares of new secondary forests are growing, even though they do not have the same biodiversity as the original forests and original forests store 60% more carbon than these new secondary forests. According to a study in Science, promoting regrowth on abandoned farmland could offset years of carbon emissions.
Transferring rights over land from public domain to its indigenous inhabitants is argued to be a cost effective strategy to conserve forests. This includes the protection of such rights entitled in existing laws, such as India’s Forest Rights Act. The transferring of such rights in China, perhaps the largest land reform in modern times, has been argued to have increased forest cover. In Brazil, forested areas given tenure to indigenous groups have even lower rates of clearing than national parks.
Some incentives for reforestation can be as simple as a financial compensation. Streck and Scholz (2006) explain how a group of scientists from various institutions have developed a compensated reduction of deforestation approach which would reward developing countries that disrupt any further act of deforestation. Countries that participate and take the option to reduce their emissions from deforestation during a committed period of time would receive financial compensation for the carbon dioxide emissions that they avoided. To raise the payments, the host country would issue government bonds or negotiate some kind of loan with a financial institution that would want to take part in the compensation promised to the other country. The funds received by the country could be invested to help find alternatives to the extensive cutdown of forests. This whole process of cutting emissions would be voluntary, but once the country has agreed to lower their emissions they would be obligated to reduce their emissions. However, if a country was not able to meet their obligation, their target would get added to their next commitment period. The authors of these proposals see this as a solely government-to-government agreement; private entities would not participate in the compensation trades.
Plans to plant a nine-mile width of trees on the Southern Border of the Sahara Desert. The Great Green Wall initiative is a pan-African proposal to “green” the continent from west to east in order to battle desertification. It aims at tackling poverty and the degradation of soils in the Sahel-Saharan region, focusing on a strip of land of 15 km (9 mi) wide and 7,500 km (4,750 mi) long from Dakar to Djibouti.
In Canada, overall forest cover is increasing over the last decades.
In China, extensive replanting programs have existed since the 1970s. Programs have had overall success. The forest cover has increased from 12% of China's land area to 16%. However, specific programs have had limited success. The "Green Wall of China", an attempt to limit the expansion of the Gobi Desert is planned to be 2,800 miles (4,500 km) long and to be completed in 2050. China plans to plant 26 billion trees in the next decade that is two trees for every Chinese citizen per year. China requires that students older than 11 years old plant one tree a year until their high school graduation.
Reforestation is required as part of the federal forest law. 31% of Germany is forested, according to the second forest inventory of 2001–2003. The size of the forest area in Germany increased between the first and the second forest inventory due to forestation of degenerated bogs and agricultural areas.
Jadav Payeng had received national awards for reforestation efforts, known as the "Molai forest".
Mass environmental and human-body pollution along with relating deforestation, water pollution, smoke damage, and loss of soils caused by mining operations in Ashio, Tochigi became the first environmental social issue in Japan, efforts by Shōzō Tanaka had grown to large campaigns against copper operation. This led to the creation of 'Watarase Yusuichi Pond', to settle the pollution which is a Ramsar site today. Reforestation was conducted as a part of afforestation due to inabilities of self-recovering by the natural land itself due to serious soil pollution and loss of woods consequence in loss of soils for plants to grow, thus needing artificial efforts involving introducing of healthy soils from outside. Starting since in 1897, about 50% of once bald mountains backed to green.
For thousands of years Lebanon was covered by forests, one particular species of interest, Cedrus libani or Lebanon Cedar was exceptionally valuable timber species. Virtually every ancient culture that shared the Mediterranean Sea harvested these trees, the Ancient Egyptians, the Greeks, the Roman Empire, early Christians, the Muslims, Persians, Assyrians and Babylonians. Extensive deforestation has occurred, with only small remnants of the original forests surviving. Deforestation has been particularly severe in Lebanon and on Cyprus. The Lebanon Reforestation Initiative aims to restore Lebanon's native forests. Projects financed locally and by international charity are performing extensive reforestation of cedar being carried out in the Mediterranean region, particularly in Lebanon and Turkey, where over 50 million young cedars are being planted annually.
The Philippines increased its forest area to 240,000 hectares (593,053 acre) per year from 2010 to 2015. In 2011-2015 period, reforestation through the government's National Greening Program covered 1,258,692 hectares of land, which is 105 percent more than the 1,200,000 hectares planting target for the same period. An estimated eight million hectares of land nationwide need reforestation and rehabilitation, according to the Forest Management Bureau.
It is the stated goal of the US Forest Service to manage forest resources sustainably. This includes reforestation after timber harvest, among other programs.
Trees for the Future has assisted more than 170,000 families, in 6,800 villages of Asia, Africa and the Americas, to plant over 35 million trees.
Wangari Maathai, 2004 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, founded the Green Belt Movement which planted over 47 million trees to restore the Kenyan environment.
Shanghai Roots & Shoots, a division of the Jane Goodall Institute, launched The Million Tree Project in Kulun Qi, Inner Mongolia to plant one million trees to stop desertification and alleviate global warming.
Reforestation competes with other land uses such as food production, livestock grazing and living space for further economic growth. However, in the case of food production, data from the Food and Agriculture Organization shows that between 1961 and 2012, the amount of arable land needed to produce the same amount of food declined by 68 percent worldwide. Reforestation often has the tendency to create large fuel loads, resulting in significantly hotter combustion than fires involving low brush or grasses. Reforestation can divert large amounts of water from other activities. Reforesting sometimes results in extensive canopy creation that prevents growth of diverse vegetation in the shadowed areas and generating soil conditions that hamper other types of vegetation. Trees used in some reforesting efforts (e.g., Eucalyptus globulus) tend to extract large amounts of moisture from the soil, preventing the growth of other plants.
There is also the risk that through a forest fire or insect outbreak much of the stored carbon in a reforested area could make its way back to the atmosphere. Reduced harvesting rates and fire suppression have caused an increase in the forest biomass in the western United States over the past century. This causes an increase of about a factor of four in the frequency of fires due to longer and hotter dry seasons.