In the rush for landscape restoration goals, let’s not forget about biodiversity
The global momentum for restoration has never been greater. With ambitious targets like the Bonn Challenge, New York Declaration and those set by the Convention on Biological Diversity, plus billions of dollars invested annually, countries all over the world are rapidly moving forward with Forest Landscape Restoration (FLR) initiatives as a way to address ecosystem conservation, sustainable development and climate goals.
But even with forest ecosystems as a central focus for restoration in many countries, biodiversity has not received adequate attention in plans and action to meet global targets, according to a group of experts who took part in a forum on biodiversity and FLR held in Foz do Iguazu, Brazil, convened by the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) CEM Thematic Group.
During a full day of discussions, participants representing some of the most active organizations in landscape restoration science and practice agreed that there is a clear need to expand the decision space for FLR to include a wider range of ecosystem components in the evaluation of restoration needs. They noted that several national policies, associated incentives and monitoring actions that aim to meet restoration targets do not always favor biodiversity-friendly outcomes.
There is need for additional guidance for restoration plans, standards and policies that encourage consideration of biodiversity, but the question remains: How do we get to a place where we work to achieve land commitments, commercial reforestation and carbon objectives, while also achieving biodiversity objectives?
Forests News talked to five of experts and asked them for thoughts and recommendations for addressing biodiversity in FLR commitments.
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While the agreements and agendas set by many of the countries in the world represent a great opportunity for landscape restoration, there is potential to create perverse incentives which focus on land objectives at the cost of biological diversity, according to Bethanie Walder, SER Executive Director.
“There is a lot of complexity around reforestation and we need to ensure that we don’t use these opportunities to put forests where they never existed before,” says Walder. “We do not want to take a beautifully intact savanna and turn it into a forest to meet our forest targets and, in the process, actually degrade other ecosystems. That would be the antithesis of what we want to accomplish.”
She adds that a possible way to avoid that scenario would be a type of foundation underneath different FLR initiatives, such as a set of international standards, which would ensure that activities and agreements would also include biodiversity objectives.
Walder also highlights a need for capacity building: “There is still not a common language or common understanding on what is and what is not restoration. So, having standards, having more capacity building and knowledge sharing among the people developing the programs to achieve these objectives is the way we can ensure they also achieve biodiversity outcomes.”
RECONCILING PRODUCTION AND CONSERVATION
Manuel Guariguata, principal scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), says there is a need to reconcile production and conservation, while still including biodiversity.
“I think one potential solution would be through cross-sectorial dialogue — among the environment side, the production side and the agricultural side — and by seeking ways to include biodiversity considerations that fulfill both livelihoods and protective functions,” Guariguata says.
“And there are many ways to do that: one is to diversify your forest, or the system you want to recreate — in other words by not using monocultures, but diversifying the species that are going to be planted, for example, or by facilitating natural regeneration to host the vegetation that once grew in a given place. And that, inherently, is a biodiverse ecosystem, more often than not,” he adds.
NOT JUST REFORESTATION, BUT RESTORATION
George Gang, SER Ambassador, believes that another part of the solution relies on having defined standards. “One of the things the Society for Ecological Restoration has done is to develop international standards for the practice of ecological restoration and in order to really protect biodiversity we need to focus more of our efforts on ecological restoration, which is the restoration of degraded ecosystems themselves, so the restoration of native forests, native grasslands, wetlands and so forth,” says Gang.
Gang adds that his organization’s international standards were written to help a wide range of stakeholders, from government agencies to practitioners on the ground, understand what exactly restoration is and how it can be conducted in a way that addresses diverse targets.
“We need to raise the bar. We should not be satisfied with just delivering the minimum in terms of ecosystem goods and services, but we could also do it in a way that increases habitats for animals and plants, and generally increases the health of the world,” says Gang.
ASSESS AND EVALUATE NEEDS AND OPPORTUNITIES
Catalina Santamaria, Forest Program Officer at the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), thinks there should be an emphasis on science and partnerships.
“Part of the solution includes carrying out assessments that will evaluate the needs and opportunities to integrate biodiversity in different restoration activities. This would help in planning and prioritizing and to guide information that is grounded by science and practice,” says Santamaria. “In addition, we need to value our partnerships. At the CBD we are committed to working with all stakeholders to ensure that this agenda is better understood and that we are able to discuss and review different options to reach our common goals.”
Santamaria points to COP13, held in Cancun, where the parties adopted a short-term ecosystem restoration action plan, which included processes and guidelines to help partners to further the discussion and to show the value of biodiversity in restoration.
MILLIONS OF HECTARES, TRILLIONS OF SEEDS
“Restoration is an unprecedented opportunity to repair ecosystems and for biodiversity conservation there is a need for native seeds,” says Cara Nelson, Chair of IUCN Ecological Restoration Thematic Group.
Nelson explains that at the moment, nurseries don’t have the capacity to produce the amount of seeds that are needed for projects to meet current commitments.
“One challenge I see is how we are going to develop these native plant materials because if we don’t have them available it is possible that efforts will proceed using seeds from exotic species. These kinds of studies, called genecological studies, are necessary immediately so we can start this process of developing seeds for forest landscape restoration,” says Nelson.
DIVERSE OPTIONS FOR BIODIVERSITY
From the creation of internationally recognized standards to building up native seed stores, these are just five ways biodiversity can be incorporated into current FLR initiatives. Although different tactics, the common message is that in the rush to meet time-bound restoration commitments, we should not forget that a much broader scope of benefits can be achieved if biodiversity is included as a component of the restoration plans and actions. The need has been identified, considerations and suggestions are aplenty; now it is time to use the restoration momentum to push for biodiversity.
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