[ree-fawr-ist, -for-]

Reforestation is the restocking of existing forests and woodlands which have been depleted, with native tree stock. The term reforestation can also refer to afforestation, the process of restoring and recreating areas of woodlands or forest that once existed but were deforested or otherwise removed or destroyed at some point in the past. The resulting forest can provide both ecosystem and resource benefits and has the potential to become a major carbon sink.

Natural reforestation

Reforestation can occur naturally if the area is left largely undisturbed. Native forests are often resilient and may re-establish themselves quickly. Conceptually, it involves taking no active role in reforesting a deforested area, but rather just letting nature take its course.

Managed reforestation

One debatable 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. More frequently multiple species are planted as well. Another important factor is the natural regeneration of a wide variety of plant and animal species that can occur on a clearcut. In some areas the suppression of forest fires for hundreds of years has resulted in large single aged and single specied forest stands. The logging of small clearcuts and or prescribed burning, actually increases the biodiversity in these areas by creating a greater variety of treestand ages and species.

Reforestation need not be only used for recovery of accidentally destroyed forests. In some countries, such as Finland, the forests are managed by the wood products and pulp and paper industry. In such an arrangement, like other crops, trees are replanted wherever they are cut. In such circumstances, the cutting of trees can be carefully done to allow easier reforestation. In Canada, the wood product and pulp and paper industry systematically replaces many of the trees it cuts, employing large numbers of summer workers for treeplanting work.

For example, 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 grow higher every year. Other species such as mahogany grow slower than teak in Tropical America but are also extremely valuable. Faster growers include pine, eucalyptus, and gmelina.

Reforestation, if several native 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.

Forest and Climate change

Carbon dioxide is one of the greenhouse gases that are responsible for the increases in temperature in the globe. This effect is known as global warming. It has been proven that forests absorb carbon dioxide through their photosynthesis cycle. This is way experts bring the idea to the table, that increasing forests with reforestation and discouraging deforestation will help mitigate global warming. Forest ecosystems are one of the most important ecosystems. They are specifically important to the global carbon cycle in a minimum of two ways (Canadell & Raupach, 2008, p.1456). They are responsible for moving around 3 billion tons of anthropogenic carbon every year. This counts to about 30% of all carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels (Canadell & Raupach, 2008, p.1456). Another reason why forest ecosystems are important is that they are a terrestrial carbon sinks, and store large amounts of carbon. This accounts for as much as double the amount of carbon in the atmosphere (Canadell & Raupach, 2008, p. 1456).

Canadell and Raupach (2008) believe that there are four major strategies available to mitigate carbon emissions through forestry activities. One of these strategies is to increase the amount of forested land through a reforestation process. Another strategy is to increase the carbon density of existing forests at a stand and landscape scales. Another strategy is to expand the use of forest products that will sustainably replace fossil-fuel emissions. One last strategy is to reduce emissions that are caused from deforestation and degradation (p. 1456).

However, achieving the first strategy requires great effort of land transformation. For example, China has used 24 million ha of new forest plantation and natural forest re-growth to offset 21% of Chinese fossil fuel emissions in 2000 (Canadell & Raupach, 2008, p. 1456). Nonetheless, there are other ideas that support the first strategy. To plant more trees is an eminent solution. In theory, any tree would cover more forest area and 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 (“A changing climate of opinion?” 2008, p. 93). Some of these trees are already being developed in the lumber and biofuel industries. So 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 regular trees (“A changing climate of opinion?” 2008, p. 93). The idea of a genetically modified tree will not only help the first strategy, but it will also help with the second by increasing forest area density.

Reducing reforestation is a strategy that will never go wrong. To cut down in deforestation has huge potential towards a cost-effective contribution to protect the atmosphere’s climate. At this point there are 13 Million ha of tropical regions that are deforested every year. These regions can reduce rates of deforestation by 50% by 2050 (Canadell & Raupach, 2008, 1456). It is highly important that we protect forests, this way we protect our carbon sink capacity to carry on with the removal of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Extensive reforestation

Extensive forest resources placed anywhere in the world will not always have a positive impact. For example, large reforestation programs in boreal 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. 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 (Canadell & Raupach, 2008, p.1457). This is why we need something called forest management. The reestablishment of forests is not just simple tree planting. Forests are made up of a diversity of species and they build dead organic matter into soils over time (Woodwell, Janzen, Wilcox, North, Swartz, & Hoyer, 1988, p.1493). Plating trees in a place like Los Angeles Basin is a good idea. A major tree-planting program in a place like this would enhance the local climate and reduce the demands of burning large amounts of fossil fuels for cooling in the summer. But there still is an important difference between tree planting and reestablishment of forests a management tool for the global climate crisis (Woodwell et al. 1988, p.1493).

Reforestation risks

There are still some drawbacks and risks that are carried from climate mitigation through the uses of forests. There is always the risk that, through a forest fire or insect outbreak, all the stored carbon could make its way back in the atmosphere (Canadell & Raupach, 2008, p.1456). 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 4 in the frequency of fires due to longer and hotter dry seasons (Canadell & Raupach, 2008, p.1456). Canadell and Raupach (2008) conclude by saying that “These new patters of disturbances are reshaping the view held in the past that vast forest resources anywhere would always play a major role in climate mitigation.” (p. 1456, par. 9).

Encourage reforestation

Some incentives can be as a simple as a financial compensation. Streck and Scholz (2006) talk about how a group of scientists from various institutions have developed a compensated reduction of deforestation approach (p. 875). They explain how this mechanism would award 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, they would receive financial compensation for the carbon dioxide emissions that they avoided (Streck & Scholz, 2006, p. 875). So in other words, if a country reduces its deforestation rate and achieves the target set, they would get compensation for it. This compensation will come after a technical verification of effective reduction in their emissions, no matter how this reduction was achieved (Streck & Scholz, 2006, p. 876). 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. These funds received by the country could be invested to help find alternative to the extensive cut down of forests. This whole process of cutting down emissions would be voluntary, but once the country has agreed to lower they 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 (Streck & Scholz, 2006, p. 876). The authors of these proposals see this as a solely government-to-government agreement. Private entities would not participate in the compensation trades (Streck & Scholz, 2006, p.876). This is an excellent approach. It not only helps maintain the current forests by cutting down on deforestation, but it also encourages countries to invest in reforestation so they can sequester more carbon dioxide emission.

See also


2. (2008). A changing climate of opinion? Economist, 387, 93-96.

3. Bonan, G. B. (2008). Forests and climate change: Forcings, feedbacks, and the climate benefits of forests. Science, 320, 1444-1449.

4. Canadell, J. G., Raupach, M. R. (2008). Managing Forests for Climate Change. Science, 320, 1456-1457.

5. Streck, C., Scholz, S. M. (2006). The role of forests in global climate change: whence we come and where we go. International Affairs, 82, 861-879.

6. Woodwell, G. M., Janzen, D. H., Wilcox, H. A., North, W. J., Swartz, J., Hoyer H. (1988). CO2 Reduction and reforestation. Science, 242, 1493-1494.

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