Sparks

Reforestation around the world

 By Thomas Schueneman

Deforestation isn’t a new problem…

Harvesting wood stretches back into prehistory when humans first used fire to their own purposes. When agriculture settlements grew, civilizations expanded, altering the land ever more dramatically, often leading to eventual resource exhaustion and collapse. Some societies disappeared, many others moved on to new land. The fundamental differences are those of scale and impact. Today, we no longer have the luxury of moving on to a new land. In his article “The History of Deforestation“, Michael Williams writes: “All that has changed since the mid-twentieth century is that an ancient process has accelerated, and that, compared to previous ages, environments more sensitive and irreversibly damaged have been affected. Possibly as much as nine-tenths of all deforestation occurred before 1950″.
Even as deforestation in many areas of the developed world is slowing or even reversing, we continue to tear through the planet’s most vulnerable and vital ecosystems. Last June, Global Forest Watch published research from the University of Maryland showing 2017 as the “second-worst on record for tropical tree cover loss“.

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Despite concerted efforts to reduce tropical deforestation, tree cover loss has been rising steadily in the tropics over the past 17 years (blog.globalforestwatch.org)

Such news understandably leads to the conclusion that global reforestation efforts are failing to stem the tide. The reports from the University of Maryland and elsewhere are troubling, but the forces driving deforestation are varied and complex, especially in a globalized economy where market demand in one part of the world ripples to all corners of the globe.
The particulars vary depending on circumstances, but any effective, sustainable program of reforestation must engage all stakeholders in a holistic, integrated and diverse set of strategies.
In other words, we must see the forest for the trees.

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Madagascar dry deciduous deforestation (Cunningchrisw, Wikimedia)

Ridge to Reef: ecosystem management in the tropics

As the name implies, Ridge to Reef ecosystem management targets sensitive habitats and, critically, the interconnection between them—an excellent example of how integrated environmental initiatives embrace the understanding that a forest is more than just trees. Ridge to Reef (R2R) is particularly well-suited to the common conditions found in small island nations and tropical regions of the planet.
The Global Environment Facility, a multisectoral, international organization and a strong proponent of R2R, says on its website:
“Few states around the world are more dependent upon healthy and spatially concentrated natural environment resources for socioeconomic development than are the Pacific Island countries. Hence, they need support to maintain and enhance ecosystem goods and services. Integrated approaches to land, water, forest, biodiversity, and coastal resource management could contribute to poverty reduction, sustainable livelihoods, and climate resilience”.
In other words, while no ecosystem on Earth is completely isolated, the tightly-woven habitats and communities of the Pacific Islands depend uniquely on the health of one upon the other.
Just as R2R ecosystem management integrates ecosystem health, many such programs offer partnership opportunities between public and private sectors, which all stakeholders in the target region are encouraged to participate in and benefit from.
For instance, in 2014, VICO Indonesia, a subsidiary of Eni Energy, launched a Ridge 2 Reef project in the East Kalimantan province on Borneo, where the company has operations. The program consisted of a staged series of interventions, from planting ulin trees in the tropical highlands and mangroves in coastal areas to constructing 40 concrete substrates supporting coral regeneration.

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The Kalimantan province in Borneo, where VICO Indonesia, a subsidiary of Eni Energy launched the Ridge 2 Reef project (Marc Veraart, Flickr)

The restoration of these interdependent habitats aided conservation efforts for native Orangutan populations. Participation from indigenous communities helps maintain multifunctional ecosystem health and provides training, learning and the potential for better economic outcomes.
Writing in Eniday, Simonetta Sandri sums up the impact the effort has had on the region:
“Protecting an area is critical to ensuring the integrity of its natural and human heritage; preserving its biodiversity contributes to the preservation of plant and animal species and prevents the progressive cultural, economic and social impoverishment of indigenous peoples and local communities”.

“Industrial-scale” reforestation

On-the-ground reforestation can be slow and time-consuming. New open-source tools combined with drone technology can raise precision reforestation to an industrial scale.
Startups like BioCarbon Engineering and DroneSeed are among several companies ramping up the drive to accelerate reforestation. Irina Fedorenko, a co-founder of BioCarbon Engineering, says current tree-planting programs “are just not fast enough”. In a National Geographic article explaining BioCaron’s technique, Fedorenko says, “… our technology is automated, so we can scale up quite realistically and quite quickly”.

Open-source solutions: the power to the people

In 2013, Lot Amoros, an eclectic “transdiscipline” artist, drone-maker and computer engineer, teamed up with a conservationist and an architect to start Dronecoria. Among the winners of the What Design Can Do Climate Action Challenge, Dronecoria is a scalable, open-source platform with tools and technology bringing large-scale reforestation within reach of small organizations and communities. Implemented in two phases, Dronecoria first creates a precision map using machine learning and analyses terrain, and deploys specialized seedballs optimized to their exact location.
For Amoros and his colleagues, Dronecoria is about more than drones and technology, emphasizing “human empowerment” over gadgetry. “We are not creating a machine to plant thousands of trees”, says Amoros. “We want to empower thousands of people to plant thousands of trees”.

Dronecoria (Dronechory) is a collection of tools for a revolutionary ecological restoration with drones, for aerial seeding of seedballs with efficient microorganisms, to make green large-scale landscapes at low cost

Across sectors and around the globe

Despite setbacks and challenges, reforestation of the world’s most vulnerable ecosystems is happening. From intergovernmental organizations to private energy companies, local communities and innovators across the globe, the solutions are within our grasp.
As history shows, deforestation doesn’t have to be permanent.

READ MORE: Britain’s reforestation project by Amanda Saint

about the author
Thomas Schueneman