This is welcome news. It appears that improving independent incomes globally are accelerating the outright abandonment of marginal agricultural lands and a concomitant restoration of former forestlands. It would be even better if folks were to actively guide the development of these forests. It is not a particularly difficult task that consists of selectively planting more economically useful trees than what may appear randomly.
Actually grooming a developing forest is another obvious way to improve the economic value of a forest. The build up of dead forest material generally stifles ground cover and is removed only slowly by rotting or fire. The process of grooming also clears the way for selective planting to move ahead of the more random climax succession.
The good news though is that natural forest recovery is underway as a matter of economic modernization. What we need though is a transition to a forest and agriculture supporting lifestyle that optimizes the land’s productivity. That has not begun anywhere as yet and will take planned intervention to realize.
A Scientist Extols the Value Of Forests Shaped by Humans
05 APR 2011: INTERVIEW
Political ecologist Susanna Hecht has incurred the wrath of some conservationists by arguing that the notion of the primeval forest is largely a myth and that disturbed forests play a vital ecological function. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, she makes the case for a “new rurality” that places less emphasis on protected forests and more on the areas where people live.
by john carey
Susanna Hecht didn’t set out to make waves in the conservation community when she traveled to
But Hecht, a professor of political ecology at the
Since then, Hecht has returned to
many times, most
recently in early March. Her nuanced studies of humanity’s interaction with
forests have revealed how major social forces, such as globalization, affect
our environment. For example, not only were imports of cheap food replacing the
traditional subsistence agricultural system in El Salvador, but El Salvadorans
who had migrated to the U.S. also were sending back large amounts of money —
so-called remittances — to their families at home. That made it possible for
people to buy food instead of growing their own, allowing farmland to revert to
forest. El Salvador
In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Hecht argues that it’s time to start thinking about a new conservation strategy for the world’s forests. Instead of working mostly to set aside preserves and parks for wildlife and biodiversity, we need to focus more on the unprotected areas where people live. She talks about a “new rurality,” wringing the most biodiversity from a patchwork landscape of crops, pastures, agroforestry plantations, and abandoned farmland reverting to forest. And in her latest work with the El Salvadoran government, she is focusing on yet another role for this rural landscape — helping to adapt to climate change.
“There has been a recognition that inhabited environments can have major conservation values,” Hecht told Yale e360 contributor John Carey. “If we have lots of people with forests we should be thrilled. And we should be really thrilled when the forest comes back, because we have a narrative that it doesn’t.”
Yale Environment 360: Let’s start with your first trip to
Susanna Hecht: Well, anyone who teaches tropical ecology has been exposed to various lines that say nature has been extinguished in
In 1999, I was asked to come down to help them think about the vision for
And I was quite perplexed because it was clear there were a lot of agro forests and secondary forests along the road. It wasn’t this blasted landscape that one had been inclined to imagine. It had people, but it also had lots of different kinds of forest.
e360: So being a scientist, you decided to see whether forests were indeed making a comeback in the country?
Hecht: It was because people kept saying there weren’t any forests, yet I’d seen them with my own eyes. So with Sassan Saatchi, I said let’s take a look at this with satellite imagery. Because it was a war zone for a long time, there was a large and extensive archive of images. What we discovered was that there had been an extraordinary recovery of forest in these areas. It wasn’t that I had trees painted on the front of my sunglasses.
Most people thought I was relatively delusional, but the other thing that has been transpiring is that many observers in many parts of the world have been noticing this process of forest recovery as well.
e360: What is the cause of the forest recovery?
Hecht: Well, in
And partly this is a function of globalization. With globalization and structural adjustment programs, things like corn and other basic staples were coming in at import prices that were below the cost of their production in
Another thing about globalization is that for niche commodities it’s quite good. Those are crops that get a premium. What it meant in the case of
I was driving around a lot this last week in El Salvador, and in areas where even a decade ago you’d still see a lot of milpa up on these steep slopes, you really didn’t see it anymore.
e360: With people buying more imported food rather than growing it themselves, how can they afford it?
Hecht: More than half the households receive remittances from various countries, mostly from family members in the
e360: How much money is flowing into these countries?
Hecht: There has been a major structural change in these economies and essentially they have to be seen as being highly globalized. They are run, in part, though large remittances. If we were to think about it globally, we would be looking at about 10 percent of the world’s population and something like $320 billion a year flowing through these informal channels to households to improve their well-being. So in a certain sense what you see in these areas is that they are less producers of commodities than they are generating services through providing a sort of refuge for households in times of stress. And they are increasingly maintaining biodiversity services and carbon absorption services, for which they are not paid.
e360: Are these global forces driving forest recovery in countries other than
Hecht: We are beginning to see a lot of forest recovery in lots of places. One salient place is the
Overall, around the world, we are seeing a net increase in forest cover. We’re seeing not just a forest recovery, but declines in deforestation as well. I think this is a ‘good news’ story.
e360: This raises the thorny question of whether or not these rural areas, which have lots of people along with the reforested areas, really do have any conservation value. Do they? And might saying that forests are recovering cause people to say that we no longer need to worry about deforestation? I heard that when your 2007 paper came out, there was quite a reaction.
Hecht: It pissed off a lot of people. I had 700 emails screaming at me for promoting deforestation. On the other hand, others said: Thank God someone is talking about the forest recovery.
I am always surprised how controversial this is. I think it’s partly because some conservationists don’t count secondary forest as real forest. They see forests as ahistorical and apolitical, and the forests just aren’t. It was pounded into people in Bio 101 that human interaction with forests is destructive. But there has been extensive human influence even in places like the Amazon. What my work there taught me is that these places weren’t empty, and that if you only look at the ecological side, you don’t see the social side of forests. The conservationists really don’t like this.
What helped me to see forests in degraded areas was being around people messing in the forest. So I was primed to see the
e360: But are these secondary forests valuable?
Hecht: There has been a recognition that inhabited environments can have major conservation value. Even though the reforested areas are fragmented, they are quite diverse in terms of landscape. They end up actually having a rather interesting impact at regional levels — they scale up rather better than one might imagine. Even those hedgerows can provide something like 40 to 50 percent of the biodiversity that you get in a riparian system in
Given the kind of magnitude of the changes that are coming no matter what, you need to have more access to more different kinds of conservation landscapes than merely the large-scale set-aside. A lovely conservation area can lose its virtue simply because of strong climate change.
e360: Which brings us to your most recent visit to El Salvador, working with the country on responding the threat of climate change. It sounds like they are taking this threat far more seriously than we are in the
Maintaining arboreal vegetation helps build resilience to climate change, and also brings slope protection, water channel protection, and tidal surge protection. In fact, the national climate policy of
essentially invokes the idea of agroforestry and forestry activities as a means
of adapting to climate change — and of contributing to larger scale mitigation.
Their economic and ecological development programs are now one and the same.
For them, climate change isn’t an abstraction or something that you debate in
Congress. El Salvador
And at the same time, these complex inhabited landscapes provide complex habitat over large areas linking different kinds of land uses for conservation ends. And I believe, with E.O. Wilson, that there is a kind of a biophilia. People like biodiversity in their heart of hearts when they’re not obsessed with controlling everything and turning it into a uniform place.
POSTED ON 05 APR 2011 IN BIODIVERSITY FORESTS POLICY & POLITICS POLICY & POLITICS CENTRAL & SOUTH AMERICA
Without forests, we wouldn't have air to breathe, our soils wouldn't have the nutrients to grow, and the animals that make up a part of our ecosystem wouldn't exist.
In an effort to balance out the needs of people and the needs of forests, scientists, conservationists, and wood and paper industry owners got together in 1994 and developed what they called the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. This agreement worked out principles that "call for a land stewardship ethic which integrates the reforestation, nurturing, and harvesting of trees for useful products with the conservation of soil, air and water resources, wildlife and fish habitat, and forest aesthetics." Basically, this means that even though we will continue to harvest trees from our forests, we will try to be as careful as possible not to disturb the environment and the species who live there.
Greenery protects the eye and maintains ecological balance. There are vast tracts of wasteland. Can’t something be exploited from it? There are many trees which thrive under a variety of environment conditions with less water. There is Annona Squamosa (Custard Apple. The fruit has pulp which can be canned and soft drinks made from it. The seed yield about 30 per cent oil which is toxic and can be used as natural pesticide. The oil in general is used in paints and varnishes. The residue after extraction of oil can be used as natural fertilizer.
There is Agave
Indeed Multiple use plants are the answer for afforestation which can have LEAF TO ROOT APPROACH.
Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore (AP),
Posted by Dr.A.Jagadeesh on 21 Apr 2011
Thanks for a really great interview. As a permaculturalist, I really appreciate such a robust approach to agroecosystems and conservation / climate change adaptation.
Posted by Harry Wykman on 12 May 2011
I found this interview and the paper really interesting. Here in
Our wildlife now inhabits cultural landscapes and this wildlife includes old growth species, which now primarily occupy wood pasture systems (historic agro-forestry), many of which are no longer actively managed and are declining in quality as a result. Our knowledge of the ecology of these old growth species suggests that wood-pastures are structurally very similar to the original natural forest cover, and that people merely occupied and adapted the natural open forest areas. Where human tree management was compatible then these species survived. Indeed, there is little evidence of mass extinctions of old growth species within
Dr Keith Alexander
Posted by Keith Alexander on 13 May 2011
In the tropics forest are far from urban areas and their access is difficult. Endangered lowland species need to be reintroduced in urban areas. It is not just a matter about "going green" mainstreaming plant taxonomy in the society is needed.
Collaborative tree mapping could be a way to achieve this as it gives a visibility to the people's knowledge.
You can contribute to it on the following website http://pericopsis.org/
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