New plantations are not forest restorations

Ecological restoration is the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed. Ecological restoration aims to re-establish a self-organizing ecosystem in order for it to reach full recovery. Monoculture plantations are where a single species of tree is planted – it’s often when you see those oddly straight lines of the same trees of similar age in an area that feels like an alien from outer space may have given forest replication a try!

Researchers recently pointed out in an analysis that plantations are far less effective at storing carbon than natural forests are and have urged plantations to be excluded from forest restoration work (40x lower than that sequestered by natural forests by their calculations and other studies suggest they are actually net emitters due to soil disturbance, production and degradation). Scientists and environmentalists mean restoring natural forests but policy makers have often interpreted this as plantations and fought for them.

Of the 43 countries – including China, India, and Brazil – that have pledged to restore forests, over half have published details of their strategies that cover two-thirds of the total area. 45% of the area is slated to become plantations of a single tree species; 21% to agriculture that mixes trees and crops, known as agroforestry; and only 34% is given to restoring natural forests. This isn’t going to help us much with climate change or biodiversity and the targets we need to hit.

While restoration activities can often place a degraded ecosystem on an initial trajectory of recovery relatively quickly, full recovery of the ecosystem can take decades, or hundreds of years. While individual restoration activities may be completed, in most cases the restoration process continues as the ecosystem recovers and matures. Plantations are often part of an industrial model of consumption, and hold trees that are often harvested once a decade, starting the whole process again. This needs to stop and if we actually naturally restore forests like we should, they then need to be placed under conservation rulings.