Plantations take economic pressure off natural forests

ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.

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University of Lisbon, Portugal.

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University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

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Strategies for global forest restoration must be framed in the context of the growing worldwide demand for fuel, food and incomes (see S. Lewis et al. Nature 568, 25–28; 2019). In our view, plantations are, alongside natural and regenerating forests, a legitimate and valuable component of the global restoration strategy to directly and indirectly contribute to climate-change mitigation.

The demand for forest products is projected to increase by around 50% by 2030. Plantations are highly efficient wood-production systems and can alleviate pressures on natural forests. Along with agroforests, they also support livelihoods. The regeneration of secondary forests, by contrast, has high ‘opportunity costs’ because the land is no longer available for more economically rewarding purposes. A fair analysis of carbon must consider continued forest degradation in restoration scenarios that exclude plantations, as well as the role of plantations in replacing steel and concrete with timber.

Plantation companies can be important investors in natural-forest restoration. New plantation models favour landscape mosaics of different species, interspersed with natural forests and agricultural lands that provide raw materials and social and environmental benefits (C. L. C. Liu et al. Global Ecol. Conserv. 15, e00419; 2018).

In Brazil, for example, companies must allocate 50–80% of their lands to natural-forest restoration or protection. Members of the conservation group WWF’s New Generation Plantations collectively manage 11 million hectares, more than half of which is dedicated to conserving and restoring forests and other ecosystems, and to supporting small-scale farming (L. N. Silva et al. New Forests 50, 153–168; 2019).

Nature 570, 307 (2019)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-01878-0

Competing Financial Interests

R.K. receives research funding from the Australian forest plantation industry. J.G. and M.B. attended a WWF New Generation Plantation workshop in early April 2019, and are providing advice on the development of WWF New Generation Plantation research activities. This is in an unpaid capacity and as independent scientists, and they do not hold any official position in this regard.

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