Thoughts on Forest Restoration
What are we doing to our natural forests, and what can be done to improve them?
World-wide forests are being lost at an alarming rate. The global net annual deforestation rate is estimated to be 9.4 million hectares (FAO 2001). This loss occurs primarily in the tropical forests of the world. The global deforestation number does not show the entire picture in that it does not account for forest losses that occurred as a result of conversion from natural forest to plantations (monoculture product forests) of another 1.5 million hectares globally on an annual basis. Additionally, these numbers assume that some previously cleared forest areas have returned to natural forest via regrowth, particularly in the non-tropics. The increase in forest due to regrowth and plantation establishment may partly compensate some forest loss in term of area, but not for the loss in quality of natural forests.
It is the loss of ecological integrity and function of forests that should be most alarming to us. Deforestation in terms of forest clearing and conversion can be relatively straightforward to measure; however, it can be much more difficult to quantify forest degradation and the loss of function and values.
The Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) has defined forest degradation as: “Changes within a forest that affect the structure and function of the stand or site and thereby lower its capacity to supply products or services.”
Degraded forests have lost much of their productivity and biodiversity, as well as many of the ecological goods and services they once provided (Lamb and Gilmour 2003). Among these other services include soil erosion protection, thermal protection, wildlife habitat, medicinal products and sequestering excess carbon. The degree and amount of impairment from forest degradation is subjective and is influenced by the forest values perceived by the person doing the evaluating. Forest productivity and ecological integrity can mean different things to each of us.
Nonetheless, there are imperative needs to protect and enhance global forest resources from natural system and human well-being perspectives. There is an ultimate interdependency of life on this planet with the health of natural forest communities. To that end forest restoration should take on a greater urgency and importance.
First it may be helpful to define forest restoration. One source previously cited that delves into this topic in details has been produced by The World Conservation Union (IUCN) in the series of publications on Issues in Forest Conservation; it is entitled Rehabilitation and Restoration of Degraded Forests (Lamb and Gilmour 2003).
The above-referenced publication defines forest restoration terminology at the Landscape level and at the Site Level as follows:
Forest Landscape Restoration: A process that aims to regain ecological integrity and enhance human well-being in deforested or degraded forest landscapes.
Reclamation: Recovery of productivity at a degraded site using mostly exotic tree species. Species mononcultures are often used. Original biodiversity is not recovered but protective function and many of the original ecological services may be re-established.
Rehabilitation: Re-establishing the productivity and some, but not necessarily all, of the plant and animal species originally present. For ecological and economic reasons the new forest may include species not originally present. In time, the original forest’s protective function and ecological services may be re-established.
Ecological Restoration: Re-establishing the structure, productivity, and species diversity of the forest originally present. In time, ecological processes and functions will match those of the original forest. (The Society for Ecological Restoration defines it as “the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged or destroyed)
We need to answer how we account for human well-being and ecological integrity in addressing global forest restoration; it is our thought that the two are not mutually exclusive and need to go hand in hand. However, unlike ecosystem integrity, human well-being is likely to be promoted more by rehabilitation than by restoration (Lamb and Gilmour 2003). The term “Forest Landscape Restoration” is intended to incorporate both ecosystem integrity and human well-being.
By promoting “Forest Landscape Restoration”, the IUCN and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) having been partnering with others since 1999 to improve ecological integrity and enhance human well-being in deforested and degraded forest landscapes by:
- Offering an approach to forest restoration that includes improving rural livelihoods;
- Producing a wide range of goods and services, rather than simply planting trees;
- Linking forest restoration and rehabilitation activities at the site level with environmental, social and economic needs at the landscape and ecoregional level;
- Recognizing and attempting to balance land-use trade-offs; and
- Providing a multi-sector approach that ensures the participation of interest groups in decision-making.
Closer to home, human pressures and disturbances in the U.S. associated with development and resource extraction, including habitat fragmentation and invasive species spread (see prior issues of Leaf Litter),continue to threaten forest ecosystem health. Even with cited increases in forest cover in the non-tropics (e.g., the Eastern U.S.) due to abandoned agricultural fields being allowed to revert back to forests, it is still imperative to restore degraded and modified forests in these regions. It is up to all us to become involved in supporting forest restoration initiatives locally, nationally and globally. Remember, without forests there would be no Leaf Litter.
Leaf Litter Talks With Leslie Sauer
Leaf Litter would certainly be remiss if we addressed the topic of forest restoration without touching base with one of the Country’s noted experts on restoration, Leslie Sauer. Recently, Leaf Litter had the opportunity to speak with Leslie about her thoughts on forest restoration and ask her some of the same questions we asked you – our readers – in the pre-issue survey.
Leslie is an expert in the field of restoring and managing native landscapes and the founder emeritus of the Philadelphia firm of Andropogon Associates, Ltd. Since its inception in 1975, Andropogon has been at the forefront of ecological planning and design, seeking to integrate functional needs and aesthetics to create beautiful, provocative, and sustainable landscapes. Through innovative strategies and techniques, Sauer has directed the reestablishment of natural systems in a wide range of sensitive, degraded, and developed environments.
Tell us a little about the work you are doing presently:
I am focusing my energies on the landscape within a 25 mile radius of my home in Central New Jersey. My primary reason (for this geographic limitation) is to concentrate on implementation – which I believe is our biggest failing. Everyone’s very good at “talking the talk” but not “walking the walk.” Far too much time is spent on discussing planning and design without regard for what needs to be done “on the ground” – the implementation. We have all of these agencies at township levels and environmental commissions, country planning commissions, and yet when you go to your county hospital or other municipal facilities or the average school, it looks just like a developer built it. The agencies that are supposed to be enforcing good environmental planning and design, aren’t implementing it.
One of the projects I am working on is for Montgomery Township in Somerset County. I am helping them to manage parcels of township owned land that has been acquired over time. Much of the land is in transition – it was formerly open farm land and now it used for open space and park land. The main problem we’re dealing with is exotics.
What do you believe is the most critical threat to remaining native forests?
By far, I think global warming presents the greatest threat to our forests. Global warming is impacting the ranges for plant growth and creating extreme weather events.
While native plants are designed to withstand extremes in general, what we are experiencing now goes way beyond historic ranges due to global warming.
Of course forests are also under stress from habitat losses, hydrologic disruptions, etc. These things are putting terrific pressure on plants. In addition, their (plants) ability to move has been so compromised because of habitat fragmentation and in turn reduces their ability to recover from impacts of global warming.
Do you believe that native forest ecosystems can be restored?
The big issue is that many of the species we value the most are dependent upon large contiguous and continuous blocks of forest which are harder to bring back and there are certain types of restoration that cannot be accomplished without those kinds of scales. This puts extra pressure on the last remaining open spaces. One of the reasons that fighting highway expansions is so important is because they are going into the last remaining large areas. This type of fragmentation precludes a lot of restoration. A few good examples of efforts to protect some of these last remaining tracts are the Highlands Bill in the Highlands Area of northern NJ; the Pinelands National Preserve in southern New Jersey; and the preservation of the Chapman Forest in southern Maryland.
From an institutional perspective what do you perceive as the most difficult aspect of forest restoration?
I think at the big scale – like the scale of the eastern forests – it really is political. The underlying problem is that everything is basically “for sale” right now. We are completely immersed in the politics of exploitation and even as the agencies get more sophisticated they also seem to be rendered more helpless. So in that sense I do think we need a big political shift. I think the core problem is that culturally we just moved away from the environment in a big way. It’s a non-issue politically – we have erased 30 years of environmental legislation. In the 70’s we passed the National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Air, Clean Water, Endangered Species Act – there was broad scale public support for them and politicians ran on these issues and now the fact that Kerry brought up the environment during the Democratic National Convention made national news! I think people really do care about the environment, but it’s lip service at the level of real politics.
From a technical perspective, what are the most critical issues affecting forest restoration?
The most difficult technical issues are the ones related to soil – restoring a soil food web that is characteristic of a forest environment vs. an agricultural or disturbed environment. The problem is that the creatures in the soil – what we call the “soil food web” — also succeed just like landscapes. So you may have, because of disturbance, a juvenile or early successional soil community where you are trying to restore a late successional forest.
Another critical issue is exotics and how to deal with them all. The biggest problem is that there is no comprehensive program to monitor and control introductions of exotics. The floodgates are open. The wildlife exotics related problems are going to become even more severe because they are harder to control – for example the appalling transmission of long horn beetles in pallets from Asia.
While small growers are being harassed about seed exchange programs on a minute scale, huge convoys of trucks with tires filled with mosquitoes from every continent travel unregulated. There are a lot of ways that our free trade mentality is moving exotics around. I think authorities are regulating the overt trade a bit, but they are not paying any attention to this sort of accidental trade.
Leaf Litter readers told us about some forest restoration projects they are familiar with. Are there a few notable projects that come to your mind?
In particular, I think the work that is being done at Bowman’s Hill Wildlife Preserve (New Hope, PA) is quite notable. They are saving and preserving record numbers of endangered and threatened species. According to their website (www.bhwp.org), this 100-acre preserve features nearly 1000 species of Pennsylvania native trees, shrubs, ferns, vines and herbaceous perennial wildflowers. The collection includes more than 80 native species designated as Plants of Special Concern in Pennsylvania, including rare, endangered and threatened plants.
Other notable eastern urban restoration efforts include in FairmountPark (Philadelphia) and the SchuylkillCenter (Philadelphia).
Are you aware of any jurisdictions, agencies or NGO that have developed specific forest restoration guidelines?
The New Jersey Pinelands Commission is developing a Comprehensive Management Plan with new forestry standards. Earlier this year, a Forestry Advisory Committee was set up to review Pinelands forestry policies to ensure that harvesting, land preparation and re-vegetation practices are consistent with the Commission’s mandate to protect and maintain the Pinelands environment while ensuring that forestry is a viable economic and cultural resource in the Pinelands.
On the West Coast, the Indigenous Peoples Restoration Network (established by the Society for Ecological Restoration) is doing tremendous work combining management, restoration and forestry into one package. Network Chairman Dennis Martinez, an internationally renowned restoration ecologist and eco-forester, developed a whole suite of restoration manuals for training forest service workers on the West Coast. As far as I know, these are the first manuals really geared towards restoration – an absolute “how to” for people working in forestry who are trying to manage forests for timber as well as for wildlife and biodiversity. He mimics time-honored methods used by indigenous peoples for millennia; the same strategies that produced the historic landscapes he we wish to conserve. He also generates income through harvesting.
Local governments are overwhelmed by the magnitude of even small forest restoration projects. What incremental steps can be taken over a number of years that won’t break local budgets?
This is exactly what I’m helping Montgomery Township with. We have developed restoration programs that have the added value of being recreational programming for the community as well. There is a great pleasure in getting involved in such programs and residents emerge with a better understanding about how their community works. This kind of programming approach produces a more educated resident — someone who is capable of being a community steward, someone who’ll show up at community meetings and support good environmental planning at the community level. Plus, it’s much easier to sell programs related to community stewardship than it is to present the natural area as a financial burden to them. The natural areas are in fact an opportunity for some really interesting programming. Until people really understand that it benefits them to protect and restore their local resources, they aren’t going to get behind it.
From a more technical perspective, we’ve started a data base for all the planned sites in order to determine the most common problems and what the breadth of those problems is. We’re doing a sequence of small scale experimental plots and what we are finding are typical problems that are reoccurring throughout the township. We’re trying to develop long terms goals, short term necessities and a common language. We certainly can’t try to tackle every exotic, but we’re trying to tackle areas that are relatively free of exotic species now, but could easily be overtaken by exotics if we didn’t manage them. We’re also trying to identify areas where there are rare or endangered species that must be protected.
Which academic institutions are promoting environmental education?
RutgersUniversity (New Jersey) is really doing some exceptional work. I think all of the land grant colleges (http://www.higher-ed.org/resources/morrill_acts.htm) are slowly beginning to realize that this is what they were created to do – they were structured to educate about the land and that they really are best places to offer ecology oriented curricula.
I do think, however, that the most valuable educational tool is attending conferences – like the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER) conference coming up in Victoria, BC, later this month. Obviously the web has changed all of our lives and I do use it quite a bit, but I find that all of the most current information is being shared at conferences. Directly connecting with all of those kind of people it the best way to learn what is going on in the field.
I would also like to put in a plug for organizations like the Maryland Native Plant Society. They are doing very important “on the ground” work throughout the state. They are a model plant society in terms of being brilliant activists and they function as if they are responsible for all of the plants in Maryland! Their political involvement is second to none. And the commitment with which they are taking on the survey – they are doing biological studies for the State – is to be commended. They are really doing “on the ground” work – that’s all they care about.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
If people don’t believe that global warming is important they better started doing a little research. I spend an amazing amount of time dealing with fossil fuels issues. Over-development is rampant, habitat destruction is rampant, pollution is rampant. But all of these other issues are going to be rendered completely irrelevant if we don’t deal with global warming.
Reforest the Bluegrass: Changing the Landscape, Changing the Culture
Start with one innovative environmental engineer, mix in one energetic urban forester, 140,000 tree seedlings and sprinkle in 5,000 volunteers and what do you have? A recipe for changing the face of the “Bluegrass Aesthetic” and improving the environment. This is exactly what’s happening in Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government (LFUCG) under the skillful direction of Reforest the Bluegrass program co-directors David Gabbard, Environmental Engineer, and David Swank, Urban Forester.
These two gentlemen were the masterminds behind the creation of Reforest the Bluegrass back in late 1998. Spurred by requirements under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) of the Clean Water Act, the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government (LFUCG) was obligated to assess the environmental damage to its water resources and develop urban stormwater pollution prevention programs.
In the spring of 1999, Reforest the Bluegrass was launched as a stormwater management program with a strong emphasis on changing public attitudes towards what has been coined as the “Bluegrass Aesthetic” – in which rolling hills are covered with carefully mowed non-native bluegrass and fescue; streambanks are mowed down to the water’s edge; and trees dot the landscape in various places, especially along fencerows and driveways. This Public Works program educates citizens on the benefits of planting trees along stream banks and empowers them to play a critical role in protecting their own water resources by participating in annual, large-scale tree plantings.
Reforest the Bluegrass was a smashing success in its very first year. During two weeks in April 1999, over 1,200 volunteers assisted in the installation of 45 acres of floodplain forests. Twenty-five thousand tree seedlings were planted along three miles of First Priority streams in Lexington’s effort to systematically restore riparian forests along all 560 miles of streams within its borders.
Each spring since that time, hundreds of volunteers have planted hundreds of trees along streams throughout FayetteCounty. Stream sites are selected based upon the 303(d) listing of each of the major stream systems within FayetteCounty. The “303(d) list” is a compilation of stream segments determined by each state for which a Total Maximum Daily Load pollution allocation model is necessary for pollution control. Streams are listed based upon whether or not they meet designated uses – such as fishability and swimability. The criteria, which determine the fishability or swimability of a given waterbody, are based upon water quality and biological assessments.
Reforest the Bluegrass organizers have developed a fool-proof planting system that allows non-technical volunteers to successfully implement the program under the direction of the LFUCG Divisions of Engineering (Stormwater), Parks and Recreation, and Planning (Urban Forestry).
The program also engages engineering, forestry, and ecological experts from academia and natural resources agencies to design and layout a project. Trees seedlings of various species, native to the inner Bluegrass physiographic region – donated through the National Tree Trust and the Kentucky Division of Forestry – are mixed together in bags color coded by planting zone and sorted by planting design areas. Dots are spray painted on the restoration site in a 6 x 6 pattern and bags of trees – that are color-coordinated with the dots on the ground – are positioned and awaiting volunteers.
Over the years the program has been hardily supported by numerous local institutions including Bluegrass PRIDE, Fayette County Conservation District and Extension Office, First Link of the Bluegrass, Inc., Kentucky-American Water Company, Kentucky Division of Forestry, Kentucky Utilities, Kentucky Waterways Alliance, League of Women Voters, Lexmark International, and the University of Kentucky Department of Forestry. To date, Reforest the Bluegrass has planted 140,000 tree seedlings employing the manpower of over 5,000 volunteers. In addition, the program has spawned dozens of other reforesting projects in communities throughout central Kentucky.
For more information on Reforest the Bluegrass, contact David Gabbard at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Angiosperms: plants with seeds in closed ovaries, including the broadleaf trees
Bryophtyes: nonvascular terrestrial green plants, including mosses
Canopy: the continuous covering of a forest composed of the upper branches and leaves
Climax: a stage of forest succession in which the composition and age-structure stay relatively stable
Conifers: cone-bearing trees
Coppice: forest arising from the sprouting of roots or stumps in a cut-over area
Deciduous: pertains to trees that shed their leaves annually
Dendrochronology: the study of tree rings to determine growth and age
Dominant: pertains to a species that makes up the majority of canopy species
Duff: decaying organic matter on the forest floor
Edaphic: relating to soil conditions that influence plant growth
Endemic species: species found nowhere else but in a given area
Exotic invasive species: non-native species that dominate communities of native species.
Fire-successsional species: tree species that populate an area after a major burn; some require heat to release seeds
Forest fragment: a forest with a landscape that is diminished in scale and discontinuous with the larger regional forest ecosystem.
Gymnosperms: plants with naked seeds, mainly conifers
Heliophyte: a plant that is tolerant or thrives in full sunlight
Herb: a non-woody, seed-producing plant
Lichen: a composite organism made of an alga and a fungus in a symbiotic association.
Mycology: the study of fungi
Mychorrizal fungi: Fungi that enter into a symbiotic association with the roots of certain plants. They convert ammonium in the soil into nitrates the plant can use in exchange for nutrients.
Peat: soil that consists almost completely of undecomposed organic matter
Primary Forest: an area that has been forested since prior to the European arrival in North America and that has bee minimally influenced by human activity.
Secondary Forest: a forest that has regenerated after removal of at least a significant portion of the original stand
Seral forest:Forest composed of species that are relatively short-lived
Succession: a progression of species changes, often ending in a climax community
Swamp: a forested wetland.
Understory: a structural layer of a forest consisting of trees, shrubs, and herbs that are growing far beneath the canopy.
Eastern Old-Growth Forests: Prospects for Rediscovery and Recovery. Ed. Mary Byrd Davis. Island Press: WashingtonD.C. and Covelo, California, 1996
Sauer, Leslie Jones. The Once and Future Forest: A guide to forest restoration strategies. Adropogon Associates, Ltd. Island Press: Washington, D. C. and Covelo, California, 1998
Eastern Old-Growth Forests: Prospects for Rediscovery and Recovery. Edited by Mary Byrd Davis. Island Press: WashingtonD.C. and Covelo, California, 1996
The Once and Future Forest: A guide to forest restoration strategies. Leslie Jones Sauer. Adropogon Associates, Ltd. Island Press: Washington, D. C. and Covelo, California, 1998
Oak Forest Ecosysytems: Ecology and Management for Wildlife. Edited by William J. Shea and William M. Healy. JohnsHopkinsUniversity Press: Baltimore and London, 2002.
Forest Ecosystems. David Perry. JohnsHopkinsUniversity Press: Baltimore and London, 1994.
Handbook of Ecological Restoration: Volume 2 Restoration in Practice. Edited by Martin R. Perrow and Anthony J. Davy. CambridgeUniversity Press, Cambridge, UK, 2002.
You Said It! (Responses to survey)
Thanks to our many subscribers that took the time to respond to our pre-issue survey on Forest Restoration. Your perspectives and experiences are an important factor in how we shape the content of Leaf Litter. Here’s what you had to say…
What do you believe is the most critical threat to remaining native forests?
Not surprisingly, 86% of you believe that native forests should be afforded regulatory protection. Unfortunately regulatory roll backs in recent years have undermined 25 years of science-based regulatory protection for our national forests. Protections must be in place to ensure that forests are managed to maintain biodiversity and forest management practices must be based on science.
A whopping 90% of you felt that sustainable logging practices can coincide with restoring and preserving native forest ecosystems. Several of you expressed concern, however, that a sustainable logging system has never been actually achieved – adding that the obstacles are social, political and economic, not technical.
While many of you questioned the true meaning of the terms “native” and “restored”, 82% of you believe that native forest ecosystems can be restored. Of course these terms can mean different things to different people, but you may find it useful to know that the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER) Primer of Ecological Restoration (http://www.ser.org/content/ecological_restoration_primer.asp) defines ecological restoration as: the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed.