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Land Use

Temperate Forests

Moss, fern, and southern beech trees in Fiordland National Park on the South Island of New Zealand. The 3-million-acre forested landscape traverses the mountaintops to the seas, with lakes and rainforests in between. It is said that rainfall in Fiordland is measured in meters. The steep inclines, deep ravines, and nonstop moisture kept all but the hardiest from trying to inhabit the land until it became a park in 1952.

A quarter of the world’s forests lie in the temperate zone, mostly in the Northern Hemisphere. Some are deciduous; others are evergreen. Over the course of history, 99 percent of temperate forests have been altered in some way—timbered, converted to agriculture, disrupted by development. However, forests are resilient. They are dynamic systems that constantly recover from impacts, even if regaining their full ecological integrity may require centuries.

The world’s 1.9 billion acres of temperate forests are a net-carbon sink. According to the World Resources Institute, more than 1.4 billion additional acres are candidates for restoration—either large-scale, closed forest or mixed mosaics of forests, more sparsely growing trees, and land uses such as agriculture. With restoration comes additional carbon sequestration.

While temperate forests are not threatened by the same large-scale deforestation that afflicts the tropics, they continue to be fragmented by development. They also are experiencing hotter and more frequent droughts, longer heat waves, and more severe wildfires, as well as worsening insect and pathogen outbreaks. These disturbances can push temperate forests beyond their capacity for resilience. Restoration efforts will need to continue evolving in response, yet restoration is no replacement for protection.

Technical summaries for each solution will be available May 1, 2017.

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