Reforestation is the re-growing of forests that have previously been cut down using tree species that are native to the geographic area. Another term for reforestation is afforestation, the practice of restoring forests that used to exist but had been cut down. The resurgent forest can benefit the environment, preserve endangered species and renew valuable resources, and can also remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which benefits the effort to slow global warming.
Reforestation can either occur naturally or it can be managed by people. In natural reforestation, an area is simply left undisturbed by human activity. Seedlings in the ground or carried to the area by wind and water flow germinate and grow. The forest is reestablished in due course according to a succession of plant species that is characteristic of that geographic area.
In managed reforestation, people attempt to reestablish forests. However, managed reforestation can give rise to debate over whether the re-established forest has as much biodiversity as the original forest or a forest that has been naturally reestablished. For example, some forests have been replanted with just a single-tree species, while other tree types are prevented from growing back, giving rise to a forest monoculture that resembles agriculture. Increasingly, reforestation is accomplished by planting seedlings from multiple species native to the area. In clear-cut areas, the natural regeneration of a range of plant and animal species can occur. Thus, in some managed reforestation projects, areas of mature or climax forests in which one species or a natural monoculture predominates, areas of the forest are clear-cut or burned, and the deforested areas are naturally reforested. This results in a more diverse ecosystem than previously existed in the natural climax forest. This procedure is particularly beneficial for old forests on preserved public lands, which have often been protected from the renewing influence of forest fires for many years.
Reforestation is often managed by the lumber and paper industries in order to maintain the resources that make the continuation of wood-dependent industries possible. These industries use the forest as a crop in which trees are replanted to replace those that have been cut. Tree cutting is selective and careful in order to maximize the crop output. These industries are particularly important in Canada, and their forest replanting operations employ large numbers of people during the summer.
Historical Background and Scientific Foundations
The scientific basis for reforestation efforts lies in the preservation of the ecological relationships between the many plant and animal species that depend on forest habitat, including those that have and continue to sustain human communities. As deforestation across the world has changed the environment and resulted in the loss of many of these species as well as the loss of many human livelihoods and the reduction of human quality of life, reforestation efforts have gained ground. The scope and value of these efforts is best presented in a series of examples from the United States and developing nations outlined in the following sections.
The Reforestation of New England
On tours of contemporary New England, travelers are often struck by the extent of evergreen and hardwood forests. It can be difficult to imagine that the primordial New England forest had been almost completely obliterated by the middle of the nineteenth century by settlers and businesses cutting timber for homes, shipbuilding, paper pulp, and the creation of open fields for agriculture and dairy farming.
Most of the European settlement of New England took place during the 1700s. The British Colonial government granted large tracts of land to settler groups who were dubbed proprietors. These groups of 6 to 10 families, or more, were given a certain number of years to develop the land by clearing woodlands for crops and farm animals, and felling trees for homes, fences, and businesses.
This deforestation reached a peak in the mid-1800s, when an estimated 80% of the New England forests were cleared except for parts of Northern Maine and the more mountainous areas. Woodland wildlife species such as wolves, turkeys, beavers, moose, and cougars disappeared from the region, while open-land species such as skunks, meadowlarks, rabbits, and foxes moved in.
With all of the high quality land taken and because much of the remaining land had poor, rocky soil, and because the productivity of the poorer land rapidly declined, many settlers migrated west and abandoned their farms in New England, which provided an opportunity for the return of the forests. The white pine was the most common tree to repopulate the New England forest. However, by the time that the white pine stands reached maturity, commerce created by the building of the Panama Canal and the new national network of railroads concurrently created a demand for wooden transport containers. Movable sawmills depleted the forest re-growth, and this second round of deforestation was further exacerbated by the hurricane of 1938, which devastated central New England.
The first large-scale, concerted effort to re-grow New England’s forests began in 1897, when conservationists established the Massachusetts Forests and Parks Association, aiming to tackle some of New England’s environmental problems. Though the association’s initial focus was wildlife conservation, founding member Harry Reynolds saw the link between woodland habitat and animal conservation and corresponded with state and federal government officials to advocate for land protection measures. His initiative eventually resulted in the formation of the New England Forestry Foundation (NEFF) in 1944.
The NEFF proposed clear principles for harvesting trees, and collaborated with landowners and lumber companies to implement the new guidelines. Although their efforts met with initial resistance, by 1946 the foundation was helping to manage 20 properties with an average area of 150 acres. Some sixty years later, the NEFF is managing over 20,000 acres of forestland in New England.
The NEFF’s forest management techniques involve first analyzing the condition of an area, often after a previous manager has already initiated a treatment, or forest management system. NEFF’s forest manager decides whether to continue the current treatment, or develop a new system. If a new treatment is advisable, NEFF pur-
WORDS TO KNOW
CLEAR-CUT: A parcel of forest that has been denuded of trees. Clear-cutting can be destructive of forests, particularly when the cycle of reforestation is slow and the processes of wind and water erosion of deforested land make it inhospitable to reforestation. However it can also be a tool for increasing the biodiversity of forests that have been protected from forest fires for many years.
DISTURBANCE SEVERITY: The amount of vegetation and root system killed by fire or tree cutting activity, and the type of growing space made available for new plants.
ECOSYSTEM PROCESSES: The dynamic interrelationships among and between these living organisms and their particular habitat elements.
ECOSYSTEM SERVICES: Services that a natural or restored ecosystem provides to human communities, including improving water quality, reducing soil erosion, flooding, and landslides and increasing carbon sequestration. These services can also include the generation of income for people through ecotourism, investment opportunity and local employment.
ECO-TOURISM: Environmentally responsible travel to natural areas that promotes conservation, has a low visitor impact, and provides for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local peoples.
RETURN INTERVAL: The average time between occurrences of disturbances in a given stand of trees.
sues one of three harvesting methods: Intermediate Thinning, Regeneration, and Allowable Harvests. Going forward, the NEFF manager will monitor and maintain the forest—a complex task.
Another initiative that helped to revolutionize forest management in New England was the foundation of Harvard Forest, in which a Harvard professor, Richard T. Fisher, and his students developed a comprehensive plan for reforestation in New England. This plan, with its central concept of ecological forestry, took account of factors such as land-use history, human activity, and natural disturbances like hurricanes and electrical storms. Fisher produced a famous set of dioramas depicting the dramatic changes in the New England landscape from pre-settlement times to the twentieth century.
Reforestation efforts in New England have been quite successful; about 80% of the six-state region is now covered with forest. The New England region has effectively combined natural and managed reforestation to create more diverse and ecologically balanced forests. Most of the new forest growth is hardwood oak, maple,
and ash, with large stands of evergreen pine and spruce in the more northern and mountainous areas.
Impacts and Issues
Reforestation in Rwanda and the Preservation of Chimpanzee Habitat
A reforestation project in Rwanda aims to create a forest corridor that will link an isolated group of chimpanzees to larger areas of habitat in the country’s Nyungwe National Park. The Rwandan government backs the Rwandan National Conservation Park initiative, which is receiving funding from the Great Ape Trust of Iowa and other U.S. conservation organizations. It is hoped that the initiative will save the Gishwati chimpanzees from extinction, since each newly planted tree increases their chances of survival by providing food, shelter, and security from people. Linking their habitat to the Nyungwe and the Kibira National Parks in Rwanda offers the additional advantage of bringing them closer to a larger, more secure population that will allow them to avoid inbreeding.
Backers of the initiative say the project will help restore biodiversity and ecosystem services such as improving water quality, reducing soil erosion, flooding, and landslides, and increasing carbon sequestration. The initiative is expected to generate income for Rwandans through ecotourism, investment opportunity, and local employment.
The natural forest cover of Rwanda has been almost completed stripped by decades of subsistence agriculture and fuel wood cutting. The depletion of the environment damaged the land to the point where scarcity precipitated one of the most widespread and brutal genocides in human history. However, since the end of the 1994 genocide, Rwanda has pushed to promote better land practices, including conservation and reforestation, as well as ecotourism. In the past two years, hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign investment for the development of hotels and tourist facilities has flooded into the country.
Gishwati is thought to have great potential for tourism for nature-lovers. The forest originally covered 100,000 hectares (250,000 acres) in the early 1900s but by 1994 it had been reduced to just 1,500 acres (600 hectares). Recent reforestation efforts have increased the forested area to 2,500 acres (1,000 hectares). Only 15 chimps survive in this small area, but conservationists hope that this decimated population will increase as the forest area expands and is connected to Nyungwe National Park.
Reforestation in Mexico and the Preservation of Monarch Butterfly Habitat
Relentless illegal logging and deforestation threatens the species survival of the monarch butterfly because of its singular migration pattern, which concentrates nearly the entire population of insects in the small, mountainous Michoacan jungle area in south central Mexico.
In a migration pattern thought to have been created during the time of advancing ice sheets in North America, monarch butterflies born in Canada and the United States migrate southward in the fall all the way to Mexico, a flight of about 2,800 mi (4,506 km). Their flight begins individually, but the migrating insects are soon joined by tens of thousands of fellow monarchs. They roost together at night in trees and suck nectar from flowers in order to build fat reserves as they head toward Mexico, an unknown destination. They converge by the millions in Mexico’s Neo-Volcanic Mountain Range in Mexico on the first of November at altitudes of 9,000 to 12,000 ft (2,740 to 3,660 m) to spend the winter roosting at night in oyamel trees by the hundreds of thousands per tree and flutter around the forest in the daytime in a spectacular display of brilliantly colored, rustling wings moving in ever-changing patterns.
The monarchs mate in the early spring and head north by the end of March. During their flight, they seek out milkweed plants, where the females deposit their eggs and die. The few caterpillars that survive predation develop into butterflies that continue the migration northward. Three or four generations are required to reach the original northern habitat range. In the fall, the migration to Mexico begins again.
The forest canopy of the Michoacan jungle has been degraded by 45% in the monarch butterfly’s wintering areas during the past 30 years. This degradation has been so devastating that a severe winter storm in January 2002 killed 75-80% of the monarch butterfly population. Now, an urgent international effort is underway to fund the reforestation and protection of this unique overwintering home of the monarch butterflies. The funds are used not only to return the forests to the mountain slopes, but also to help offer the local population a sustainable way of life in forest management and eco-tourism.
According to Greenpeace, Mexico is one of the world’s five leading deforesters, with Brazil in first place and India in second. In 2008, the Mexican government has allocated $500 million, an unprecedented amount of funds, for tree planting. However, overall the Mexican reforestation program has received mixed reviews from Greenpeace and local environmental organizations. In 2007 environmental activists criticized Mexico’s national forest policy as being deceptive and inadequate. However, some organizations praise the government’s effort, with its goal of planting 280 million trees in 2008, an increase of 30 million over 2007. Greenpeace claims that the program is a failure because few of the saplings survive and there is too much emphasis on planting and not enough on forest management and monitoring. The government counters that the environmental groups do not have sufficient contact with local populations that have been enlisted in reforestation efforts.
Reforestation Practices in the New Jersey Pinelands
The New Jersey Pinelands in southern New Jersey is another example of a major government-backed initiative to restore large tracts of forestland in the eastern United States. The Pinelands National Reserve, the first national reserve in the United States, was created by the
IN CONTEXT: “JOHNNY APPLESEED,” SEEDS OF LEGEND
John Chapman is best known by his popular nickname: “Johnny Appleseed.” He was born in Massachusetts in 1774. Little verifiable information is known about his early life, however in 1791 he began traveling through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois planting trees, including thousands of apple trees.
Chapman’s usual practice was to find a suitable piece of land, clear it, and plant an orchard. Then, over the course of two to three years he would return to tend the orchard until the trees were ready to be sold. By locating his orchards in the path of advancing settlements, Chapman ensured himself a steady supply of ready buyers for his apple saplings, which he sold for about six cents apiece. Estimates place his total plantings at approximately 1,200 acres (486 hectares) of orchards.
Chapman appeared to be part agronomist, part naturalist, and part eccentric philosopher. Although tales of a shaggy man scattering seeds wildly are more fiction than fact, the impact of Johnny Appleseed is undeniable. By spreading apple trees across the frontier, he helped ease the lives of pioneers, and his efforts were responsible for some of the large orchards dotting the Midwest today. More than a century after his death, some of the trees he planted are still bearing fruit.
Like most legends, the man behind the story was probably less exciting than the tall tales about him. But Johnny Appleseed played a unique role in American frontier life. In 1966, the U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp honoring Johnny Appleseed and his accomplishments.
National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978. The New Jersey legislature’s Pinelands Protection Act of 1979 provided for establishment of a Pinelands Commission, which created a Comprehensive Management Plan, approved in 1981 to balance forest protection and development interests. The plan established the Pinelands Commission to oversee a 337,000 acre (136,380 hectare) core preservation district to be maintained in its natural state through strict regulation of development, and a protection area where there are various categories of land use (forest, agriculture, regional growth, rural development, pinelands, towns and villages, military and federal institutions) based on existing natural features and projected need. The commission appointed a Pinelands Forestry Advisory Committee to devise a forest management plan for the region. In 2004 the Pinelands Commission charged this committee increased responsibilities to review, clarify, and expand the forestry provisions of the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan.
During the past 300 years, Pinelands forests were almost completely harvested several times over to provide fuel and raw materials for industries ranging from iron forges, charcoal making, glassblowing, and shipbuilding. Hundreds of small sawmills dotted the Pinelands landscape, producing wood products ranging from timber to cedar shakes. This forest activity and its economic potential dwindled during the twentieth century, which helped to create the consensus that led to the passage of the Pinelands Act. The goals of the Pinelands forestry program are to:
- Maintain native pinelands forest types
- Mimic historic influences, and
- Encourage multiple-use forestry.
In maintaining the native Pinelands forest types, three factors contribute to the essential character of the Pinelands: the physical features of the landscape (relief, soils, and hydrology); the living organisms (Pinelands plants and animals); and ecosystem processes, which are the dynamic interrelationships among and between these living organisms and their particular habitat elements. Fire has profoundly influenced the development of contemporary plant and animal species distribution patterns in the Pinelands. Pinelands forestry management program goals specify that forestry practices should maintain general patterns of native species and ecological communities while allowing for some post-disturbance dynamics. Pinelands forestry should maintain these broad patterns of native species and communities by mimicking the effects of historic and prehistoric fires and tree cutting that created these patterns. For example, the clear-cutting of white pines leads to the establishment of a hardwood forest because pines cannot sprout again from roots as do hardwood trees. The Pinelands forestry guidelines allow for conducting forestry for commercial, stewardship, ecological, and hazard reduction goals.
The forestry guidelines encourage proprietor landscape-scale management plans that help maintain biological diversity and ecological processes, including practices that encourage natural regeneration to maintain locally native forest types, species, and genotypes. Importantly, guidelines suggest that forestry techniques should avoid introducing invasive species or facilitating their spread. Forestry practices should also avoid significant permanent conversion from one native forest type to another, and should help to maintain an understory of native plants. In order to maintain the distribution of cover types, species, fuel structure, and soil structure patterns on the landscape, these forestry practices involve taking account of the return interval (the average time between occurrences of disturbances in a given stand); severity (the amount of vegetation and root system killed, and the type of growing space made available for new plants); landscape pattern (distribution of disturbance patch mosaic effects); the size and timing of fire; cover types; age classes; and the pressures of human development both within and adjacent to the managed forest area.
Forest management should promote commercial forestry, wildfire hazard reduction, and forest stewardship while providing for the long-term environmental integrity of the Pinelands, but avoid irreversible adverse affect on habitat critical to the survival of any threatened or endangered plant or animal species. For example, prescribed fire management is encouraged to achieve ecological and wildfire hazard reduction goals as long as it does not threaten rare or endangered species.
Bellemare, Jesse, Motzkin, Glenn, and David R. Foster. Thoreau’s Country: Journey through a Transformed Landscape: “Legacies of the Agricultural Past.” Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 1999.
Florio, James R., Governor, and the Pinelands Forestry Advisory Committee. Final Report: Recommended Forestry Management Practices. Trenton, NJ: New Jersey Pinelands Commission, 2006.
Fisher Museum Harvard Forest. “Landscape History of Central New England.” 2006. http://harvardforest.fas.harvard.edu/museum/landscape.html#farm (accessed April 6, 2008).
Michoacan Restoration Fund. “Monarchs.” 2006. http://michoacanmonarchs.org/ (accessed April 6, 2008).
Mongabay.com. “Rwanda Launches Reforestation Project to Protect Chimps, Drive Ecotourism.” March 18, 2008. http://news.mongabay.com/2008/0318-rwanda.html (accessed April 6, 2008).
Kenneth Travis LaPensee
1. The establishment of a particular type of woodland by planting into an existing, different woodland type
2. The replacement of a tree crop by natural or artificial means on land from which a previous wood has been removed.