This forest in Costa Rica was mostly cleared for agriculture as recently as 40 years ago. Photo: Matthew McDermott.
I don't know if you saw it, but the New York Times recently ran a piece in which two scientists, Dr Joe Wright and Dr Bill Laurance, from the Smithsonian debated regeneration of rainforests in Panama. The gist was that in some places rainforest is re-growing and whether because of this saving untouched rainforest is as urgent a problem as it is portrayed. There may be a lot of deforestation going on, but there is also re-growth elsewhere. Cool Green Science just posted a piece which offers a thoughtful response to both positions:It's one of those things where both people are right and both are wrong, in degrees.
Rainforests Are Tougher Than We Tend to Think
After describing how in Brazil's first national park, Tijuca, you'd be hard pressed to figure out what parts of the land had be a coffee plantation one hundred years ago, post author David Cleary points out that,
We think of tropical forests as porcelain-like, fragile and impossible to put back together if broken. Tijuca back's up Dr Wright's argument that it's more accurate to view tropical rainforests as tough and resilient, able to absorb a huge amount of punishment and come back.
And goes on to say that as long as forests aren't cleared entirely (which certainly does occur; Cleary cites examples) that there is a chance of regeneration. We definitely see this in Central America, the Congo, elsewhere.
The Scale of Threats to Rainforests Remains High
Cleary concludes that, though Laurance probably overstates his case in presenting the choices between virgin forest and degraded forest, he accurately states that the scale of threats to rainforests remain high. Dr Laurance in the original New York Times piece:
Now the rain forest is being felled by "industrial forestry, agriculture, the oil and gas industry — and it's globalized, where every stick of timber is being cut in Congo is sent to China and one bulldozer does a lot more damage than 1,000 farmers with machetes," he said.
Current estimates indicate that 20% of global carbon emissions come from destruction of rainforests. It is unknown how much higher this would be if some areas weren't re-growing. Another concern with second growth forest is whether they can support the amount of plant and animal species that older forests can.
via: Cool Green Science and The New York Times
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