Forest restoration is defined as “actions to re-instate ecological processes, which accelerate recovery of forest structure, ecological functioning and biodiversity levels towards those typical of climax forest” i.e. the end-stage of natural forest succession. Climax forests are relatively stable ecosystems that have developed the maximum biomass, structural complexity and species diversity that are possible within the limits imposed by climate and soil and without continued disturbance from humans (more explanation here). Climax forest is therefore the target ecosystem, which defines the ultimate aim of forest restoration. Since climate is a major factor that determines climax forest composition, global climate change may result in changing restoration aims.
Forest restoration may include simply protecting remnant vegetation (fire prevention, cattle exclusion etc.) or more active interventions to accelerate natural regeneration, as well as tree planting and/or sowing seeds (direct seeding) of species characteristic of the target ecosystem. Tree species planted (or encouraged to establish) are those that are typical of, or provide a critical ecological function in, the target ecosystem. However, wherever people live in or near restoration sites, restoration projects often include economic species amongst the planted trees, 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.
Opportunities for forest restoration
Forest restoration is appropriate wherever biodiversity recovery is one of the main goals of reforestation, such as for wildlife conservation, environmental protection, eco-tourism or to supply a wide variety of forest products to local communities. Forests can be restored in a wide range of circumstances, but degraded sites within protected areas are a high priority, especially where some climax forest remains as a seed source within the landscape. Even in protected areas, there are often large deforested sites: logged over areas or sites formerly cleared for agriculture. If protected areas are to act as Earth’s last wildlife refuges, restoration of such areas will be needed.
Many restoration projects are now being implemented under the umbrella of “forest landscape restoration” (FLR), defined as a “planned process to regain ecological integrity and enhance human well-being in deforested or degraded landscapes”. FLR recognizes that forest restoration has social and economic functions. It aims to achieve the best possible compromise between meeting both conservation goals and the needs of rural communities. As human pressure on landscapes increases, forest restoration will most commonly be practiced within a mosaic of other forms of forest management, to meet the economic needs of local people.
A recent focal area for forest restoration efforts is within the urban context, where both people and biodiversity will benefit, however this context presents unique challenges .
Tree planting is not always essential to restore forest ecosystems. A lot can be achieved by studying how forests regenerate naturally, identifying the factors that limit regeneration and devising methods to overcome them. These can include weeding and adding fertilizer around natural tree seedlings, preventing fire, removing cattle and so on. This is "accelerated" or "assisted" natural regeneration. It is simple and cost-effective, but it can only operate on trees that are already present, mostly light-loving pioneer species. Such tree species are not usually those that comprise climax forests, but they can foster recolonization of the site by shade-tolerant climax forest tree species, via natural seed dispersal from remnant forest. Because this is a slow process, biodiversity recovery can usually be accelerated by planting some climax forest tree species, especially large-seeded, poorly dispersed species. It is not feasible to plant all the tree species that may have formerly grown in the original primary forest and it is usually unnecessary to do so, if the framework species method can be used.
In large parts of the world, forest fires cover a heavy toll on forests. That can be because of provoked deforestation in order to substitute forests by crop areas, or in dry areas, because of wild fires occurring naturally or intentionally. A whole section of forest landscape restoration in linked to this particular problem, as in many cases, the net loss of ecosystem value is very high and can open the drop to an accelerated further degradation of the soil conditions through erosion and desertification. This indeed has dire consequences on both the quality of the habitats and their related fauna. Nevertheless, in some specific cases, wild fires do actually allow to increase the biodiversity index of the burnt area, in which case the Forest Restoration Strategies tend to look for a different land-use.
Forest restoration projects
Ashland Forest Resiliency Stewardship Project
The Ashland Forest Resiliency Stewardship Project (AFR) is a decade long, science-based project launched in 2010 with the intent of reducing severe wildfire risk, but also protecting water quality, old-growth forest, wildlife, people, property, and the overall quality of life within the Ashland watershed. The primary stakeholders in this cooperative restoration effort are the U.S. Forest Service, the City of Ashland, Lomaktsi Restoration Project, and the Nature Conservancy. The project was launched with initial funding from the Economic Recovery stimulus, and has more recently received funding from the Forest Service Hazardous Fuels program and the Joint Chiefs Landscape Restoration Partnerships program to back the project through 2016 .
Located in the dry forests of southern Oregon, the threat of wildfire is a reality for land managers and property owners alike. The boundaries of the city of Ashland intersect with the surrounding forest in what is referred to as the wildland-urban interface (WUI). Historically, the forests of this region experienced a relatively frequent fire return interval, which prevented buildup of heavy fuel loads. A century of fire exclusion and suppression on federal lands in the Pacific Northwest has led to increased forest density and fuel loads, and thus a more persistent threat of devastating wildfire.
The AFR project has implemented restoration techniques and prescriptions that aim to replicate the process of ecological succession in dry, mixed-conifer forests of the Pacific Northwest. The approach involves a combination of fuels reduction, thinning small-diameter trees, and carrying out prescribed burns. Priority is given to maintaining ecological function and complexity by retaining the largest and oldest trees, preserving wildlife habitat and riparian areas, and protecting erodible soils and maintaining slope stability.
Since its inception in 2010, the AFR project has completed restoration work on 4,000 of the 7,600 acres slated for the project. The project has provided educational experience to over 2,000 students and has benefitted the local community by creating jobs and providing workforce training. Currently, helicopter logging operations are thinning 1,100 acres of the watershed while controlled burning operations take place as air quality conditions allow.
Forest landscape restoration
Forest landscape restoration (FLR) is defined as “a planned process to regain ecological integrity and enhance human well-being in deforested or degraded landscapes”. It comprises tools and procedures to integrate site-level forest restoration actions with desirable landscape-level objectives, which are decided upon via various participatory mechanisms among stakeholders. The concept has grown out of collaboration among some of the world's major international conservation organizations including the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the World Resources Institute and the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO).
The concept of FLR was conceived to bring about compromises between meeting the needs of both humans and wildlife, by restoring a range of forest functions at the landscape level. It includes actions to strengthen the resilience and ecological integrity of landscapes and thereby keep future management options open. The participation of local communities is central to the concept, because they play a critical role in shaping the landscape and gain significant benefits from restored forest resources. Therefore, FLR activities are inclusive and participatory.
The desirable outcomes of an FLR program usually comprise a combination of the following, depending on local needs and aspirations:
- identification of the root causes of forest degradation and prevention of further deforestation,
- positive engagement of people in the planning of forest restoration, resolution of land-use conflicts and agreement on benefit-sharing systems,
- compromises over land-use trade-offs that are acceptable to the majority of stakeholders,
- a repository of biological diversity of both local and global value,
- delivery of a range of utilitarian benefits to local communities including:
- a reliable supply of clean water,
- environmental protection particularly watershed services (e.g. reduced soil erosion, lower landslide risk, flood/drought mitigation etc.),
- a sustainable supply of a diverse range of forest products including foods, medicines, firewood etc.,
- monetary income from various sources e.g. ecotourism, carbon trading via the REDD+ mechanism and from payments for other environmental services (PES)
FLR combines several existing principles and techniques of development, conservation and natural resource management, such as landscape character assessment, participatory rural appraisal, adaptive management etc. within a clear and consistent evaluation and learning framework. An FLR program may comprise various forestry practices on different sites within the landscape, depending on local environmental and socioeconomic factors. These may include protection and management of secondary and degraded primary forests, standard forest restoration techniques such as "assisted" or "accelerated" natural regeneration (ANR) and the planting of framework tree species to restore degraded areas, as well as conventional tree plantations and agroforestry systems to meet more immediate monetary needs 
The IUCN hosts the Global Partnership on Forest Landscape Restoration, which co-ordinates development of the concept around the world.
In 2014, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations established the Forest and Landscape Restoration Mechanism. The Mechanism supports countries to implement FLR as a contribution to achieving the Bonn Challenge - the restoration of 150 million hectare of deforested and degraded lands by 2020 - and the Convention on Biological Diversity Aichi Biodiversity Targets - related to ecosystem conservation and restoration.
In partnership with the Global Mechanism of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, FAO released two discussion papers on sustainable financing for FLR in 2015. Sustainable Financing for Forest and Landscape Restoration: The Role of Public Policy Makers provides recommendations and examples of FLR financing for countrues. Sustainable Financing for Forest and Landscape Restoration - Opportunities, challenges and the way forward provides an overview of funding sources and financial instruments available for FLR activities.
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- Reitbergen-McCraken, J., S. Maginnis A. Sarre, 2007. The Forest Landscape Restoration Handbook. Earthscan, London, 175 pp
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- Mansourian, S., D. Vallauri, and N. , Dudley (eds.) (in co-operation with WWF International), Forest Restoration in Landscapes: Beyond Planting Trees. Springer, New York.
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- "The Global Partnership on Forest and Landscape Restoration". The Global Partnership on Forest and Landscape Restoration. IUCN.
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- The Global Partnership on Forest and Landscape Restoration - More information on global initiatives to restore forest ecosystems
- Issuance Of Eco-Restoration License
- Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, United States Forest Service, Washington, DC
- Forest and Landscape Restoration Project, World Resources Institute, Washington, DC
- The Global Partnership on Forest and Landscape Restoration, Wageningen, Netherlands
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