Tropical Rainforest Conservation and restoration
Rainforest restoration, also known as reforestation, refers to the human-induced conversion of nonforested land into forested land. This is done through seeding, planting, as well as the promotion of natural sources of seed on land that was previously forested but, which has been converted to nonforest land. (ERA 2011) Similarly, the practice of rainforest conservation precedes the act of rainforest restoration. While rainforest restoration is concerned with replacing rainforests which have been decimated for one reason or another, rainforest conservation aims to prevent rainforest decimation.
It is imperative to begin with a foundation of knowledge regarding the macro-environmental factors, so as to grasp the enormity of the task to conserve or restore tropical rainforests. Macro environmental factors can include temperature, precipitation, sun exposure and wind patterns typical for a widespread area. These factors are often widespread and can be characterized by biome. A tropical rain forest biome is characterized by being located typically within 10 degrees of latitude North and South of the equator. There is typically remarkably little temperature variation between months and the annual rainfall range is between 200 and 400 centimeters. It is the macro-environmental factors which lead to a high biodiversity among both plant and animal species within tropical rain forests. With conservation efforts recently shifting to a biodiversity focus, tropical rainforests have become more crucial than ever when attempting to protect endangered species.
Until recently, as pertaining to the history of conservation efforts, conservationists focused on the macro-environmental factors when planning restoration efforts. While this is a crucial factor, there are factors on a much smaller scale which may be more beneficial to the success of restoration efforts. Conservationists are now paying more attention to microenvironmental factors, such as soil composition, to enhance one’s understanding on why certain plant species may perform better in a given area within a biome based on the soil and nutrient availability on a small geographic scale.
The soil, also known as geologic substrate, is comprised of four levels; O horizon, A horizon, B horizon and C horizon. The O (organic) horizon is the immediately visible topsoil. This is the layer which consists largely of freshly fallen organic matter such as leaves, twigs and other plant parts. Beneath the O horizon is a mixture of mineral materials such as clay, silt and sand which accounts for the A-horizon. It is this layer which is of interest for conservation and restoration efforts. The B horizon consists of thicker clay masses and the leached materials from the A-horizon. Finally, the C horizon is the thickest layer of significance and consists mostly of frost and thick rock known as bedrock. For conservation efforts, it is the A horizon which is of significance.
What are the components of rainforest restoration?
Rainforest restoration involves a number of practices. These include reforestation, an approach that is usually characterized by large-scale plantation of alien species. There is also reclamation, which also uses alien species in an effort to prevent severe degradation. Rehabilitation is also done, where native species are utilized in the new forest. However, some alien species may also be incorporated as an economic or ecological necessity. Restoration is also done where the ecosystem is returned to a considerably undisturbed condition as it was prior to human impact (Joseph, 49).
During rainforest restoration, reforesting is done along watercourses to establish wildlife corridors, and prevent erosion. It goes without saying that deforestation is also forbidden so as to protect the natural habitats (Joseph, 59). Native species are usually used so as to maintain the local ecosystem.
Considerations in the restoration of rainforests
There are several elements to consider when attempting the restoration of a tropical rain forest.
First, it is worth noting that a legitimate and crucial objective of most of ecological restoration resides in the reintegration of the fragmented landscapes and ecosystems, rather than concentrating on a single ecosystem. A baseline ecological inventory must describe the salient features pertaining to the abiotic environment, as well as crucial aspects pertaining to biodiversity. These come in handy in determining the sites that should be given priority. The prioritization of a tropical forest for restoration would involve consideration of certain features. Priority is given to sites that form habitats for certain endemic or threatened species, river and stream courses, corridors than connect forest fragments, or even edges of a forest fragment that adjoins other habitats or plantations. Priority may also be given to degraded areas along or within the edges of reserved forests or existing sanctuaries, as well as along linear intrusions.
Second, priority is given to extirpation or control of species that pose the greatest threat. These may include invasive species of plants that are known to be mobile and those that pose ecological threat at regional and landscape levels. In addition, this category may include animals known to displace native species. It is imperative that care is taken to so as to cause the minimum possible disturbance to the indigenous soils and species. This does not undermine the fact that nonindigenous plants may be used for a certain purpose during the restoration project. For example, nurse crops, nitrogen fixers and cover crops may be used so as to enhance the growth of other crops. Unless these crops are considerably nonpersistent and short-lived species that are to be replaced in the succession process, their subsequent removal has to be incorporated in the restoration plans (Eddy, 69).
Moreover, it is imperative that the restoration plans consider all the functional species. Full restoration of tropical rainforests would only be successful if it allows for ample recovery of the species composition. In essence, all the functional species groups have to be represented so as to enhance the capacity of the restored ecosystem to maintain itself (Eddy, 48).
It is also imperative that the restoration process incorporates considerations of the indigenous ecological management practices. It is worth noting that the numerous ecosystems have suffered tremendously from external pressures and demographic growth. In essence, the restoration process for such ecosystems usually incorporates the simultaneous recovery of the indigenous ecological management practices (Tucker and Simmons, 67). These may include support for the indigenous groups’ survival, as well as that of their languages. These people are living libraries for the conventional, ecological knowledge. It is worth noting that the ecological restoration promotes and may, in fact, be reliant on the long-term participation of the indigenous people (Tucker and Simmons, 78).
Other things that have to be considered include the extent of the damage, the number os species, the magnitude of the original forest area, as well as the diversity of the soil and topography of the tropical forest. These factors determine the diversity of species of crops or trees that are to be incorporated in the tropical forests. It is worth noting that, in the conservation of species, it is imperative that a viable population of each of the species is incorporated. These species have varied specifications as to the expansiveness of land that would be sufficient for them (Smith, 78).
Where is rainforest restoration occurring?
Rainforest restoration is occurring in various parts of the world. These efforts have been augmented by the enactment of various policies especially in the international community. One of the countries that have taken reforestation quite seriously is South Korea. In fact, this country could serve as reforestation model and is seen as the most successful as far as reforestation is concerned. These efforts started more than a generation ago. The country had been rendered entirely deforested thanks to logging, as well as heavy usage of firewood during the Japanese occupation (Taylor, 79). Since then, almost every bare mountain has been turned into a forest land. Another a country that is still carrying out reforestation efforts is Tanzania in a project known as Kwimba Reforestation project. This project has been running for more than two decades and involves the reforestation of about 40 villages (Big Scrub Rainforest Landcare Group, 78). Multinational and local organizations have participated in the efforts, which saw more than 6.4 million trees planted in less than 9 years. Responsibility for these trees has been safeguarded through the incorporation of tree ownership certificates (Catterall, et al, 98). These certificates gave the owner title for the trees irrespective of the individual who owned that land prior to the reforestation. There is also the reforestation project that is taking place in Mexico, in the Mixteca region (Big Scrub Rainforest Landcare Group, 59). This region was previously one of the most forested parts in the world. This, however, changed in the 20th century thanks to goat herding and heavy logging, as well as modern farming techniques. There was a turnaround in late 20th century when the Center for Integral Small Farmer Development (CEDICAM) was introduced. CEDICAM has relied on terraced agricultural techniques, native tree species, as well as containment ditches for alleviating hillside erosion to reforest over one thousand hectares and planted a million trees. In the US, the Appalachian region is also undergoing reforestation (Koynan, 90). This region was rendered bare by coal mining. The Appalachian Region Reforestation initiative stated working to reverse this damage in mid-2000. Currently, more than 60 million trees have since been planted on an area measuring about 87,000 acres (World Commission on Environment and Development, 67).
Social Issues of Rainforest Restoration
As much as the projects are aimed at restoring tropical rainforests, it is impossible to discard the social issues surrounding the entire issue. This is especially considering that indigenous communities have a key role to play in ensuring the long-term success of tropical rainforest restoration (Freebody, 13). For a long time, restoration projects have always served as vehicles for unifying and strengthening communities (Bonan, 34). For example, citizens living in Guatemala’s western mountains used to grow seedlings for the reforestation of their own plots of land. However, the entry of EcoLogic helped them to establish a community nursery, where the citizens would share duties and responsibilities pertaining to raising these seedlings. Social issues also come into play as forests are seen as vehicles of empowerment (Bonan, 45). On the same note, societies have always made various forest management practices as a way of protecting their water sources.
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