The Immense Potential Of Forests To Sequester Carbon

Most of us understand that trees are good for the environment and that they absorb carbon in order to grow. We are familiar with comparisons that show how many trees would have to be planted in order to compensate for the carbon emissions from an airplane flight or from driving our cars. We have heard some people say that planting trees would solve our climate change problems. But is this really true? Is it bad to harvest forests to produce lumber? How much carbon could we eliminate from the atmosphere through better forest management? We sat down with two forestry management and carbon offset program experts to discuss this topic and here is what they had to say.

Julius Pasay is the Director of Project Development at The Climate Trust, a nonprofit organization that combats climate change by funding and managing projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and has been in operation since 1997. Julius oversees forestry and grassland programs, and works on carbon offset project development with landowners and land managers throughout the U.S. Julius is a Certified Forester and holds a Master of Forestry from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.


Structurally Complex Forests Better at Carbon Sequestration

Forests in the eastern United States that are structurally complex – meaning the arrangement of vegetation is highly varied – sequester more carbon, according to a new study led by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University.

The study demonstrates for the first time that a forest’s structural complexity is a better predictor of carbon sequestration potential than tree species diversity. The discovery may hold implications for the mitigation of climate change.

“Carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas, is taken up by trees through the process of photosynthesis and some of that ‘fixed’ carbon is allocated to wood,” said Chris Gough, Ph.D., corresponding author on the study and an associate professor in the Department of Biology in the College of Humanities and Sciences. “Our study shows that more complex forests are better at taking up and sequestering carbon in wood and, in doing so, they leave less carbon dioxide in the air.”


How Millions of Trees Brought a Broken Landscape Back to Life

Author: John Vidal

Twenty-five years ago, the Midlands villages of Moira, Donisthorpe and Overseal overlooked a gruesome landscape. The communities were surrounded by opencast mines, old clay quarries, spoil heaps, derelict coal workings, polluted waterways and all the other ecological wreckage of heavy industry.

The air smelt and tasted unpleasant and the land was poisoned. There were next to no trees, not many jobs and little wildlife. Following the closure of the pits, people were deserting the area for Midlands cities such as Birmingham, Derby and Leicester. The future looked bleak.

Today, a pastoral renaissance is taking place. Around dozens of former mining and industrial communities, in what was the broken heart of the old Midlands coalfield, a vast, splendid forest of native oak, ash and birch trees is emerging, attracting cyclists, walkers, birdwatchers, canoeists, campers and horse-riders.

Britain’s trees have come under increasing attack from exotic diseases, and the grants for planting woodland are drying up, so the 200 sq miles of the National Forest come as a welcome good news story. The new woodland in the Midlands is proving that large-scale tree planting is not just good value for money, but can also have immense social, economic and ecological benefits.


Study Finds Indigenous Land Management Highly Effective in Combating Climate Change

Author: David Kaimowitz

This article originally appeared at Equals Change, the staff blog of the Ford Foundation. The author is the director of sustainable development at the Ford Foundation.

The first time I heard about Charlie Taylor was the day he died. A friend rang to say that ranchers had attacked a group of Mayangna Indians in a forest near Musawas in Nicaragua, killing one of the Indians and injuring several others. Charlie—a 40-year old father of seven who farmed locally and panned for gold in nearby rivers—was the one who died.

On April 23, 2013, Charlie was part of a group of villagers who went to investigate after hearing that ranchers were chopping down forests to clear land for pasture, in territory managed by the Mayangna. It turned out to be true: When Charlie confronted the intruders and asked what they were doing on his peoples’ land, they started shooting. Charlie was hit and died a few hours later.

Since Charlie’s death, I have thought a lot about him and talked to people who knew him. What made him risk his life to defend the forest? What could I possibly say to his destitute widow, Ricalina Devis? Why are so many indigenous and community leaders being killed protecting rainforests? And how might I explain the urgency of this situation to urban friends and colleagues, who live in heated homes with running water, whose food and drugs come from stores? What do they have in common with the many millions of people who still depend directly on nature for sustenance, fuel, and medicine?


Ethiopia’s farmers fight devastating drought with land restoration

Author: Duncan Gromko

Ethiopia is in the midst of the worst drought in 50 years, affecting over half of the country’s 750 districts. Earlier this month, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), called Ethiopia’s condition “a deteriorated humanitarian situation”.

Environmental degradation has played a big role. Ethiopia has long been a victim of land degradation, driven by increased human use of land and unsustainable agricultural practices. Grazing of animals and collection of firewood haven’t helped – with less cover and protection against erosion, soil is more easily washed away.

Now, Ethiopia is drawing on its business community and public sector to do something about it. Earlier this year, the country agreed to join the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100), a country-led effort to bring 100m hectares of land in Africa into restoration by 2030. The initiative was launched formally at COP21 in Paris.

AFR100 will see governments working together with regional institutions, public and private sector partners and international development programs to restore productivity to deforested and degraded landscapes, mostly through restoring forests and planting trees on agricultural land. “AFR100 seeks to realize the benefits that trees can provide in African landscapes, thereby contributing to improved soil fertility and food security, improved availability and quality of water resources, reduced desertification, increased biodiversity, the creation of green jobs, economic growth, and increased capacity for climate change resilience, adaptation and mitigation,” the group’s mission states.


Carbon is not the problem

Author: George King

I recently had the privilege of flying Walter Jehne from the southern temperate zone of New South Wales, through the deserts of Central Australia to the subtropics of the Northern Territory.  About 20 hours of return flight time looking at and talking about Australia’s environments.  Walter is a soil microbiologist and probably the most intelligent and knowledgeable person I have ever met.  He is immensely patriotic to Australia and has the clearest understanding of environments.

Here is the layman’s version of some of what I learnt.  Carbon is not the problem, it is certainly a major symptom of the problem though.  Even if we cut our carbon emissions to zero right now it will take hundreds of years for the carbon levels to fall to pre-industrial revolution levels.  And no developed country is going to cut their standard of living so drastically.

The root problem is that on a local level we have adversely affected the hydrological cycles of the environment.  The world population and distribution is at such a saturation now that human local land management is catastrophically effecting the global environment.  The good news is that we have the ability to reverse any damage we have done to the hydrological processes, it is simple, it is affordable and we will produce more food in the process.

For the past 420 million years soils have been the foundation for the evolution of life on land, it stands to reason that the soils will hold the solution to turn around our current practice from damaging soils globally to growing them again as nature has been doing for millennia.  Almost without exception every nation’s greatest export by volume and value is eroding soil.

Our soils are formed and are governed by the microbial processes which regulate much of the Earth’s critical carbon, water, nutrient, heat dynamics, cooling and climate cycles and more importantly their interconnected balance.  The natural hydrological processes govern 95% of the heat dynamics and balance of the blue planet.  We have been damaging these hydrological processes for more than 10,000 years but particularly in the past 300 years.


Good News: A Clear-Cut Rain Forest Can Have a Second Life

Author: Jesse Greenspan

Conservationists who work to save rain forests typically focus on pristine stands—the dwindling number of patches where the buzz of chainsaws has yet to echo. But even clear-cut land may warrant protection. Mounting evidence shows that, under the right circumstances, heavily logged tracts can regrow to host nearly as much biodiversity as unspoiled Amazonian wilderness.

A study published in March in Tropical Conservation Science offers the latest look at the biological value of so-called secondary forests. An international team of ecologists and volunteers spent a year and a half identifying every bird, amphibian, reptile and medium-to-large mammal they could find on some 800 recovering hectares within Peru’s Manu Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Their final count of 570 species amounted to 87 percent of those known to exist in neighboring old-growth, or primary, forests and included many imperiled creatures, such as shorteared dogs and giant armadillos. The team even found what could be new frog species.

The Manu study area represents a “best-case scenario” for secondary forest biodiversity, says Andrew Whitworth of the University of Glasgow in Scotland, who conducted the study in partnership with the Peruvian nonprofit Crees Foundation. Success is more likely at Manu because a longtime hunting and logging ban is in place, and animals can easily wander in from the extensive old-growth zones nearby.



How Forest Loss Is Leading To a Rise in Human Disease

Author: Jim Robbins

A growing body of scientific evidence shows that the felling of tropical forests creates optimal conditions for the spread of mosquito-borne scourges, including malaria and dengue. Primates and other animals are also spreading disease from cleared forests to people.

In Borneo, an island shared by Indonesia and Malaysia, some of the world’s oldest tropical forests are being cut down and replaced with oil palm plantations at a breakneck pace. Wiping forests high in biodiversity off the land for monoculture plantations causes numerous environmental problems, from the destruction of wildlife habitat to the rapid release of stored carbon, which contributes to global warming.

But deforestation is having another worrisome effect: an increase in the spread of life-threatening diseases such as malaria and dengue fever. For a host of ecological reasons, the loss of forest can act as an incubator for insect-borne and other infectious diseases that afflict humans. The most recent example came to light this month in the Journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases, with researchers documenting a steep rise in human malaria cases in a region of Malaysian Borneo undergoing rapid deforestation.

This form of the disease was once found mainly in primates called macaques, and scientists from the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene wondered why there was a sudden spike in human cases. Studying satellite maps of where forest was being cut down and where it was left standing, the researchers compared the patchwork to the locations of recent malaria outbreaks. They realized the primates were concentrating in the remaining fragments of forest habitat, possibly increasing disease transmission among their own populations. Then, as humans worked on the new palm plantations, near the recently created forest edges, mosquitoes that thrived in this new habitat carried the disease from macaques to people.

Keep Reading on Yale Environment 360

Crisis Response: When Trees Stop Storms and Deserts in Asia

Author: Kathleen Buckingham 

This is the first installment of our Restoration Global Tour blog series. The series examines restoration success stories in Asia, Latin America, Africa, Europe and North America. Tune in over the coming months for additional installments, or check out our Restoration Diagnostic for more information.

A history of deforestation has made Asian nations like Vietnam, China and South Korea especially vulnerable to coastal storms, floods and sandstorms. Yet just as these nations have experienced similar crises, they’re also all pursuing a solution—restoring degraded landscapes.

In fact, reforestation, afforestation and changing agricultural policies have played a large role in bringing these countries from the brink to prosperity. WRI recently analyzed Asia’s restoration practices to inform the design of our Restoration Diagnostic, a method for evaluating existing and missing success factors for countries or landscapes with restoration opportunities.  Here’s a look at how these countries overcame disasters by restoring degraded land:

Protecting Mangroves in Vietnam

Vietnam has lost more than 80 percent of its mangrove forests since the 1950s. During the American War with Vietnam (1955–75), the U.S. military sprayed 36 percent of the mangroves with defoliant in order to destroy strongholds for military resistance. Since then, extensive areas have been converted into aquaculture, agricultural lands, salt beds and human settlements. More than 102,000 hectares (252,000 acres) of mangroves were cleared for shrimp farming from 1983 to 1987 alone.

With diminishing mangroves, the country’s coast became increasingly vulnerable to natural disasters like tropical cyclones.  Over the past 30 years, more than 500 people died or went missing every year due to natural disasters, thousands were injured, and annual economic losses totaled 1.5 percent of GDP.

Keep Reading on World Resources Institute

View the Map of Restoration Case Examples

San Francisco Is Now Using Firefighting Goats

Author: Lydia O’Connor

Nestled between railroad tracks and a cement recycling plant in San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood lives a little herd of urban goats with a big appetite for one of the only things that flourished in the the California drought: dry, fire-hazard brush.

Since 2008, City Grazing has been herding mixed-breed goats in the unlikely meadow and sending them on freelance assignments to eat up overgrowth everywhere from San Franciscans’ backyards to federal land in the Presidio. The landscaping goats are a green alternative to heavy machinery and pesticides and can easily graze steep hillsides, all while leaving behind a biodegradable fertilizer.

Starting last year, California’s driest year on record and host to the devastating Rim Fire, the company was inundated with calls asking about goat landscaping as a way to protect the land, City Grazing’s Genevieve Church told The Huffington Post.

“There’s been a definite increase in thoughts of, ‘How do we reduce fire hazard?’” she said. “When the number of wildfires increased in California in 2013, we began to get a lot more phone calls asking if goats were a viable option here … They’re the tried and true traditional method. Grazing animals have always been a wonderful way to keep grasslands and brushy areas reduced in that dry material.”

With triple the call volume, City Grazing decided to grow its goat family, and since January, around 50 baby goats, or kids, have been born into the herd and doubled its size. On Sunday, the company held an open house at the meadow where the public could watch a ceremonial “running of the goats” out to pasture.

Keep Reading in The Huffington Post


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