In Part 1 of the series Sustainably Restoring our Lost Forests, we looked at the importance of forests to our livelihoods and how easily they can be destroyed by natural disasters with a close look at Dominica in the passing of the recent hurricanes. It is important to achieve sustainable forest management which will provide integrated benefits to all, ranging from safeguarding local livelihoods to protecting the biodiversity and ecosystems provided by forests, reducing rural poverty and mitigating some of the effects of climate change.
Recovery after a hurricane or other natural disaster depends on each forest’s objective. Some hurricane-ravaged forests may be left to regenerate on their own, taking from as little as decades to as much as a century to fully recover and re-establish. In some cases, clean-up is necessary to protect the forest from further destruction. This is because tree debris can become a breeding ground for insects and fungi. Barbuda and Dominica that have been wiped of tree life by Hurricanes Irma and Maria would need to be reforested. Great care will be needed to ensure that all varieties are maintained or replanted.
Other responses include salvaging of logs to recover the timber value that’s been lost and to reduce fire hazards. In the case of Louisiana, seven years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, both replanted and surviving stands are recovering. In the case of Caribbean territories which have lost significant native foliage, several plans of action can be taken to help turn the countries green again.
The situation may not be as clear-cut for Dominica with its sharp slopes and peaks. The island paradise of 50 fumaroles, hot springs, three freshwater lakes, a ‘boiling lake’ and five volcanoes, will take months, if not years, to traverse and clear up by foot. Springs may become blocked with debris and require clearing. The subsequent build-up of water may lead to other challenges that may not be readily identified in the UNESCO World Heritage site.
Afforestation is akin to the opposite of deforestation, except that instead of focusing on reforesting formerly wooded areas, this process seeks to establish forests in places where no trees grew before or where land is currently bare.
More of us can embrace and nurture our own little section of wilderness, right in our own backyards by taking the following steps recommended by Shubhendu Sharma at his TED Talk. Sharma quit his job as an engineer to start a for-profit company that builds forests at 10 times the natural rate:
- First, identify what nutrition the soil lacks.
- Then identify what species we should be growing in this soil, depending on climate.
- Identify locally abundant biomass available in that region to give the soil the nourishment it needs. This is typically an agricultural or industrial by-product — like chicken manure or press mud, a byproduct of sugar production — but it can be almost anything.
- Amend the soil to a depth of one meter
- Plant saplings that are up to 80 cm high, packing them in very densely — three to five saplings per square meter.
- “The more the forest grows, the more it generates nutrients for itself, accelerating growth. This density also means that individual trees begin competing for sunlight — another reason these forests grow so fast,” says Sharma in his TED Talk.
OneGreenPlanet says, “In the beginning, everything should be planted at the same time. While the fruit and nut trees are young, much of the bounty will come in the form of edible greens, fresh herbs, and opportunistic vegetables. Then, once the forest is up and lovely, these things will likely only grow on the outskirts,” he said. The fruit trees will start giving hundreds of pounds of fruit. “All the while, there has been no lawn to cut, but rather a largely self-supporting, budding forest to forage from.”
Dr. Chandra A. Madramootoo, P.Eng., in her Keynote Address at the First Technical Meeting Caribbean Land and Water Resources Network, suggests the following methodologies for restoring soil for replanting:
- Terracing, contour cropping, contour drainage, and strip cropping on hillsides, to reduce soil erosion
- Planting of cover crops and leguminous crops to increase soil productivity and reduce erosion
- Limit the planting of short-term crops and bananas on the steep hillsides
- Agroforestry, i.e. planting of food crops between rows of trees
- Reforestation of denuded hillsides
- Utilization of economic tree crops, such as fruit trees, cocoa, nutmeg, coconuts, breadfruit etc. in agroforestry systems and reforestation projects
- Control of streambank erosion through a combination of river straightening, and vegetated buffer strips and trees along rivers
- Use of geotextiles, gabion baskets, or stone riprap on river embankments, to reduce streambank erosion
- Collection and safe disposal of runoff from hillsides, and road ditches in steep areas
- Increased use of animal manures and crop residues in cropping systems, to increase soil productivity and organic matter levels, and to reduce soil erosion
- Use of drip irrigation and mini-sprinkler irrigation systems for horticultural production
- Construction of small reservoirs and weirs to harvest runoff during the rainy season, so that water is available for irrigation during the dry season
- Use of mulches, either crop residues or plastic tunnels, to conserve soil moisture for fruit and vegetable production
We can play our part to restore the beauty and glory of the Caribbean from the edges of our properties. The devastation is great but Dominica’s forests will recover in time. Our great-great-grandchildren may be hearing of it or looking at clippings from newspapers in our vaults, and they may be wondering if the hurricanes ever happened at all.