What is Forest Restoration?

Forest restoration is “directing and accelerating ecological succession towards an indigenous forest ecosystem of the maximum biomass, biodiversity, ecological functioning and structural complexity that are self-sustainable within prevailing climatic and soil limitations".

Ecological Succession

Ecological succession is the natural process of forest recovery following disturbance, such as invasion of grasslands by shrubs, gradual replacement of shrubs with light-loving trees and eventually, establishment of shade-tolerant tree species, typical of mature forest ecosystems. In the past, this was brought about by natural dispersal of forest tree seeds into deforested sites, followed by competition among the tree species which grew up, eventually leading to the establishment of the tree species community most suited to the soil and climatic conditions of the site.

These days, these natural processes are hindered by a host of human-caused 'barriers to succession', such as fire, cattle browsing, lack of nearby seed sources and competitive exclusion of trees by invasive, often exotic, weeds. Forest restoration merely acts to remove these barriers and accelerate natural forest succession towards a more mature forest ecosystem, with the "look and feel" of an indigenous, natural forest ecosystem, with good wildlife habitat, a multilayered canopy and high biomass.

The Scope of Restoration

Forest restoration may include simply protecting remnant vegetation (fire prevention, cattle exclusion etc.) or more active interventions to accelerate natural regeneration (ANR), as well as tree planting and/or sowing seeds (direct seeding) of tree species characteristic of the target forest ecosystem. Wherever people live in or near restoration sites, economic tree species are often included amongst those planted, to yield subsistence or cash-generating products.

Forest restoration is an inclusive process, which depends on collaboration among a wide range of stakeholders including local communities, government officials, non-government organizations, scientists and funding agencies. Its ecological success is measured in terms of increased biological diversity, biomass, primary productivity, soil organic matter and water-holding capacity, as well as the return of rare and keystone species, characteristic of the target ecosystem. Economic indices of success include the value of forest products and ecological services generated (e.g. watershed protection, carbon storage etc.), which ultimately contribute towards poverty reduction. Payments for such ecological services (PES) and forest products can provide strong incentives for local people to implement restoration projects.