Nearly 60 Million Hectares of Forests Have Regrown Worldwide Since 2000: Study
Over the last two decades, forested areas the size of France have regrown naturally, a new study has found, observing the ways in which nature heals itself through regeneration.
The research, titled “Force of Nature: Mapping Forest Regeneration Hotspots,” and published jointly by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Wildlife Conservation Society, and BirdLife International, found 59 million hectares of forests regenerated naturally across the globe since 2000. The researchers make two observations: one, natural recovery of forests is better for biodiversity; two, the benefits of regeneration should make us value biodiversity more rather than take this process for granted.
Spanning two years, the research involved gathering satellite-imaging data, and conducting on-ground surveys in countries where regrowth was observed. The study cited the example of the Atlantic Forest in Brazil, where 4.2 million hectares of forest cover, an area almost the size of the Netherlands, has regrown. Practices like reduced use of land for farming and grazing, besides the incidental migration of people away from the area, contributed significantly to the regrowth. The boreal forests of northern Mongolia, where forest cover grew naturally by 1.2 million hectares since 2000, were another regeneration ‘hotspot’ mentioned in the study.
Moreover, experts note that allowing forests to regenerate naturally might be better for the ecosystem. “We’ve known for a long time that natural forest regeneration is often cheaper, richer in carbon and better for biodiversity than actively planted forests, and this research tells us where and why regeneration is happening, and how we can recreate those conditions elsewhere,” William Baldwin-Cantello, the chief advisor on forests at WWF in the U.K., told The Guardian.
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There is also an important lesson: reforestation is achievable with minimal effort and expenditure; all we need is to give nature the chance to heal. “If nature can recover without expensive intervention, then by identifying and attending to similar areas with the potential to self-regenerate, conservationists could achieve much more with their resources,” the study notes.
At present, the amount of forested area that has regrown can soak up almost 6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, which is equivalent to the U.S.’ annual emissions, BBC News reported.
While the study offers hope about the recuperative mechanisms within nature, it is certainly not a vindication of cutting down trees. The study also uncovered alarming data: prevailing deforestation rates can undo nature’s progress.
“…we can’t take this regeneration for granted — deforestation still claims millions of hectares every year, vastly more than is regenerated,” Baldwin-Cantello said. The only way to truly save nature, he adds, is by investing in curbing deforestation and allowing regrowth simultaneously — more so, since deforestation rates have been shooting up in recent years.
“The science is clear – if we are to avoid dangerous climate change and turn around the loss of nature,” Baldwin-Cantello recommends, “we must both halt deforestation and restore natural forests.”