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Land Use

Tropical Forests

Burning continues to be the preferred means of clearing land in the Amazon to make way for cattle. It is a delusional act because the thin acid soils quickly degrade and fail. This picture was taken in Rondonia State, just northeast of Bolivia.

In recent decades, tropical forests have suffered extensive clearing, fragmentation, degradation, and depletion of biodiversity. Once blanketing 12 percent of the world’s landmass, they now cover just 5 percent. While destruction continues in many places, tropical forest restoration is growing and may sequester as much as six gigatons of carbon dioxide per year.

As a forest ecosystem recovers, trees, soil, leaf litter, and other vegetation absorb and hold carbon. As flora and fauna return and interactions between organisms and species revive, the forest regains its multidimensional roles: supporting the water cycle, conserving soil, protecting habitat and pollinators, providing food, medicine, and fiber, and giving people places to live, adventure, and worship.

The specific mechanics of restoration vary. The simplest scenario is to release land from non-forest use, such as growing crops or damming a valley, and let a young forest rise up on its own. Protective measures can keep pressures such as fire, erosion, or grazing at bay.

Other techniques are more intensive, such as cultivating and planting native seedlings and removing invasives to accelerate natural ecological processes. Because forests and people rarely exist in isolation in today’s heavily populated world, local communities need to have a stake in what is growing, if restoration is to sustain.  

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

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