Can We Restore Damaged Forest Ecosystems?

Even after being flattened with soil and cleaned, the forest can ‘live’ again.

With the help of technology and patience, as many programs can help the world’s forests regain their right to life.

Half a millennium ago, forests covered the majority of the Iberian Peninsula in Europe. But the business changes rapidly. Wars and occupation of around hundreds of years, expanded agricultural expansion and logging for charcoal creation and export work have wiped out the majority of forests and transformed areas such as Matamorisca, a small village in Northern Spain, into a degraded landscape.

Areas with dry climates and barren land are a disaster response in a common home forest planting program. However, for Land Life Company companies based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, these characteristics are ideal conditions. “We often operate in a natural environment that cannot ‘cure’ itself,” said Jurrian Ruys, the CEO. “We go to places with difficult weather conditions, with the hottest summer.”

In Matamorisca, they worked on a 17-hectare barren land belonging to the regional government and showered it with their distinctive devices: biodegradable cardboard donuts which they called ‘cocoons’ which could hold 25 liters of underground water to help nurseries in the first year. About 16,000 oak, ash, walnut, rowan and whitebeam seedlings were planted in May 2018, and the company complained that 96% of them survived the burning summer without additional irrigation systems, indeed a spectacular achievement for young plants.

“Does nature go home by itself?” asked Arnout Asjes, head of technology at Land Life Company, who monitored drone and satellite images, big data analysis, soil repairs, QR affixing, and site-fit tree configuration designs. “It’s possible, but it will take decades or even hundreds of years, so we are speeding up the process.”

The Land Life Company is part of a global movement carried out by many organizations to strive to save degraded or deforested areas, from fertile tropical lowlands to dry hills in common areas. Encouraged by the loss of world biodiversity and climate evolution, these groups seek to push boundaries that hinder efforts to revive the forest home. “This is not a theoretical problem,” said Walter Vergara, a forestry and climate expert from the World Resources Institute (WRI). “This requires the right incentives, the right stakeholders, the right analysis, and sufficient capital, but this can be done.”

There have been many attempts to restore vegetation, even in scorching areas such as in the interior of Spain

How these factors combine in a particular project – and whether securing forests that have been leveled with the land is possible – depending on what kind of ecosystem we choose. Secondary forests in the Amazon contradict pine forests in Texas that are in the process of recovering after forest fires. It also contradicts boreal timber forests which lie in the majority of Sweden. Each has a different factor for the reforestation program and has special needs that even contradict each other.

In a dry situation near Matamorisca and many other areas in Spain, the Land Life Company is concerned about the increasingly rapid desertification process. Because they focus on efforts to reverse an ecosystem, they collaborate with organizations that don’t want their money to return.

By replanting 600 hectares in all the world since 2015 and 1,100 hectares planned to be implemented this year, the company’s motivation is in line with the Bonn Challenge (Bonn Challenge), a global effort to reverse 150 million hectares of forest in the world that is deforested and degraded in 2020. That is equivalent to the size of Iran or Mongolia. In 2030, the target of a salvage area is desirable to reach 350 million hectares – 20% more than India.

These targets are classified as the process of forest rehabilitation which loses its density or looks weak (called ‘restoration’ in terms of forestry) and forest treatment efforts that are genuinely ‘clean’ (called ‘reforestation’).

The global target is then divided into smaller targets and is being implemented in Latin American countries called Prakarsa 20×20 (20×20 Initiative), a movement contributing to reversing 20 million hectares of the forest against global targets by accelerating small to medium scale projects with relying on political support from the government of each country.
Unlike the Land Life Company, these area-scale projects have economic and business consequences in reforestation efforts, even though they support biodiversity conservation. “You must be unique from the private sector,” said Vergara, who led the initiative, “and the capital must generate dividends (Return On Investment / ROI).” A study conducted by Vergara indicated that the Latin American country would get a Present Net Value (NPV) for IDR 324.9 Trillion in 50 years if it reached its target.

Money can be obtained from selling wood in sustainably managed forests or harvesting ‘non-timber products’ like nuts, oil, and fruits from trees. we can write how little carbon dioxide is extracted by our forests and market carbon credits for companies that intend to change the carbon emissions losses they produce. Or we can even grow forests and aspire for biodiversity to become ecotourism that generates money from lodging costs, bird watching tours, and consumption.

Even land that has been cleared can return to being a lush forest with the right help

But still, all the backers of the fund are not big banks. Funds for the 20×20 Initiative mostly come from financial organizations with three destinations – meager profits, benefits for the environment, and social use – known as impact-based investors.

Take, for example, German 12Tree funding, among 20×20 partners. They are working on investment of Rp134 billion in the Cuango, a property area of 1,455 hectares on the Caribbean coast of the country of Panama, which combines chocolate plantations with timber extraction from secondary forests that are managed sustainably. With these funds, they are reforesting cattle farms, creating quality jobs for the community as long as they are profitable.

Even on land purified decades later that has recently been used by farmers, some fields can grow next to the forest, if you find the right equilibrium. Even though technically it is not reforestation, agroforestry, aka forestry and agricultural plant cultivation, allows small farmers to be able to continue farming while increasing the area of forest in their fields.

A global project named Breedcafs analyzes how trees behave in the middle of coffee plantations, with destinations to pursue plant varieties that can grow well in the shadow of a canopy. Coffee grows naturally in such forests, so replicating the matter on the plantation is tantamount to bringing the plant back to its roots.

“By reintroducing trees in that landscape, you are giving a positive effect on humidity, the level of rain catches, land conservation, and biodiversity conservation,” said coffee expert BenoĆ®t Bertrand of the French Agricultural Research Center for International Development (Cirad), who led the project. Bertrand examined dozens of coffee varieties, which were the most suitable for the system. The same treatment can be applied to plantations of chocolate, vanilla, and fruit trees.

Not all land can be reforested. Vergara partners explore safe investments, and even the Land Life Company itself only does big projects in countries where they are “low risks” values, like Spain, Mexico, or the United States. “We want to avoid large-scale operations in countries in several the Middle East or Africa where sustainability is not safe,” Ruys said.

If young trees can be protected in the first few months after planting, the forest is more likely to ‘live’ again

But in the right place, what you might need is time. In Central Pacific Costa Rica, the new 330 hectare National Wildlife Refuge did not look like in 1987 when the site became a cattle breeding field when Jack Ewing finally concluded to process the land into an ecotourism area. Instead of ‘meddling’ in juggling the fields, a friend told him not to care about nature working alone.

The grass that had previously covered the new land is now returning to become dense trees with secondary forests spreading over 150 hectares without human intervention. In the past ten years, howling monkeys, red macaws, and even mountain lions returned to the land, adding to tourism and reviving local ecosystems. Ewing, now 75, stated that the success was thanks to his colleague’s remarks three decades ago: “In Costa Rica, when you stop taking care of bushes, the forest will return to answer revenge.”