Restoring old-growth grasslands: A major problem in the aftermath of global tree-planting

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William Bond

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Afforestation has been widely promoted to ‘restore’ deforested and ‘degraded’ land. For example, the Bonn challenge plans to afforest 3.5 million km² by 2030, an area half the size of Australia and greater than the entire land area of the European Union.  The motivation is primarily carbon sequestration for wealthy countries and currency earnings for developing countries. Africa has been targeted for afforestation of 1.5 million km² within the next decade. More than a dozen countries have signed up to afforest their ‘degraded’ lands. Degradation, as defined by the World Resources Institute, is any process that damages trees, including wildfire and mammal browsing. Thus, by definition, Africa’s vast savannas are all ‘degraded’ and a major global target for afforestation. However African savannas include ancient ecosystems that have been maintained by fire and large herbivores for millions of years. Rather than ‘degraded’, these grassy biomes are now seen as alternative states to closed forests.  Attempts to restore biodiversity in old-growth grasslands planted to conifers and then clear-felled has proven very difficult. Instead, it makes more sense to avoid planting biodiverse grasslands in the first place. As yet, markers for rapid evaluation old growth grasslands are still being developed and it is not yet possible to clearly distinguish between secondary and old growth grasslands from satellite imagery. There is an urgent need to direct tree-planting programs to truly deforested areas to avoid major disruption of the biota of open ecosystems because of ill-conceived quick-fix global afforestation plans.

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Audio/Video, Conference Presentation, SER2019

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Society for Ecological Restoration