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Globally, Forests the Size of France Have Grown Back Since 2000

New research illustrates the capacity of forests to regenerate if given the chance

New research estimates that Brazil's Atlantic Forest has regrown 4.2 million hectares of forest since 2000. (BA. Duarte via Flickr under CC BY-SA 2.0)
smithsonianmag.com

Over the course of the last 20 years, a new study estimates 146 million acres of forest have regrown globally, reports Oliver Milman for the Guardian. Added together, that total is equivalent to the size of France. Sadly, during the same time period, 953 million acres of forest—an area larger than India—was lost.

Still, the new study shows the potential of the natural world to rebound when given a chance, John Lotspeich, executive director of Trillion Trees, the coalition of environmental groups behind the study, tells Umberto Bacchi of Reuters. “But,” Lotspeich adds, “it isn’t an excuse for any of us to wait around for it to happen.”

Some of the bright spots of regrowing forests identified by the study, which used satellite imagery and ground surveys, include boreal forests in northern Mongolia, the Atlantic Forest in Brazil as well as central Africa and boreal forests in Canada, reports Helen Briggs for BBC News. But even some of these bright spots require somber context. Per Reuters, Brazil’s Atlantic Forest is still just 12 percent of its original size and must add millions more acres to reach what researchers say is the minimal threshold to sustain the ecosystem.

According to a statement, those regenerated forests, which exclude commercial tree plantations, have the potential to absorb roughly 5.9 gigatons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere—roughly the same amount the United States emits in a single year.

“If we are to avoid dangerous climate change and turn around the loss of nature, we must both halt deforestation and restore natural forests,” William Baldwin-Cantello, director of nature-based solutions at the World Wildlife Fund, one of the groups behind the study, in a statement. “We’ve known for a long time that natural forest regeneration is often cheaper, richer in carbon and better for biodiversity than actively planted forests, and this research tells us where and why regeneration is happening, and how we can recreate those conditions elsewhere.”

Speaking with Reuters, Baldwin-Cantello says “if we give forests the space ... to regenerate at scale, and if we create that space, and we ensure that last into the future, then this is going to play a major role in avoiding climate change. It doesn’t mean we don’t need to stop deforestation, we definitely do. It doesn’t mean we don’t need to reduce emissions,” says Baldwin-Cantello. “But we need all of these things combined. And we can do much more to capitalize on that regeneration than we currently are.”

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