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Forest Restoration in Landscapes

Forest Restoration in Landscapes

44 J. Morrison et al and

44 J. Morrison et al and there are very small ecoregions (tens of km 2 ) and very large priority landscapes (thousands of km 2 ). Most of the principles discussed below hold for a range of scales, from the landscape to the ecoregion. 1.2. Protect, Manage, and Restore More than likely, any comprehensive conservation strategy in an ecoregion will involve a combination of protection, management, and restoration, plus the abatement/amelioration of threats.The relative proportion of each strategy that is appropriate is a function of both the overall conservation status of the ecoregion, and the location in the ecoregion—and this will change over time. For example, restoration is not necessarily an appropriate strategy in all ecoregions or landscapes. One can imagine that restoration may not currently be the highest priority in those ecoregions that are composed mostly of wilderness or large forest blocks, such as in the Amazon. A primary output of many ecoregional visions is a map of priority areas, where conservation activities are more focussed than in the surrounding matrix of the ecoregion. Yet even in the matrix, some proportion of protection, management, and restoration activities will be appropriate, and in the case of the wilderness ecoregions mentioned above, over the long-term, restoration may rise in priority in those ecoregions as more comprehensive protection and better management are instituted. From a conservation standpoint, the decisions about how much protection, management, and restoration will be a natural consequence of attempting to achieve the above four conservation goals in a strategic fashion in an ecoregion or a landscape within that ecoregion. Is there enough of a given target habitat present in the ecoregion or landscape to meet representation objectives that we can simply protect a (greater) proportion of it? Or will some areas containing that habitat need active or passive restoration in order to meet the prescribed target for that habitat? Can existing multiuse buffer zones of forest simply be managed in their current state to provide landscape connectivity, or will some areas need to be rehabilitated to restore connectivity? Forest “restoration” activities range from active planting, to management (e.g., invasive species’ removal), to more passive restoration (creating the conditions that will allow natural processes to regenerate high-quality forest). Because active restoration is so resource intensive, it should generally be the last option selected to meet a conservation objective. The key point is that from a conservation perspective restoration activities should not be undertaken for the sake of restoration; rather, the activity should be a strategic response to a specific need identified during the formation of conservation goals. The Forests of the Lower Mekong ecoregion has endeavoured to find the right balance of protection, management, and restoration—all stemming from the conservation goals highlighted during the ecoregional vision process. 2. Examples: Restoration and the Four Conservation Goals Conceptually, it is a relatively simple matter to decide whether restoration is necessary or not. By selecting conservation targets that are applicable to the aforementioned four goals of conservation, it should quickly become clear whether or not the relevant ecoregion or priority landscape still contains the necessary components to satisfy all four goals. If there are elements missing or the ecoregion/landscape is too fragmented, some restoration is probably necessary. At the basic level of the four conservation goals, the following discussion illustrates how the need for restoration can be identified. 2.1. Representation Conservationists need to represent all natural communities in some sort of a conservation network, which is generally a mix of different levels of protection. It is important that the mix of natural communities is one that has existed before a major disturbance rather than the existing mix. But all of these original communities may no longer be present in the quantity

and quality necessary, and that is where the potential application of restoration comes in. This is especially true during periods of climate change when species will need to move in response to changing conditions. One of the first steps in any conservation planning initiative is to obtain or develop a map of historic (sometimes called “potential”) natural community types across the entire ecoregion/ priority landscape. A number of coverages may suffice for this purpose, including historic vegetation maps, potential vegetation maps, or maps of plant communities or ecosystems. In the case where land conversion has made this task impossible, maps of environmental domains, which are unique combinations of substrate (soils or geology), elevation, and climate classifications, may be developed. If these environmental domains are carefully developed, they should represent unique environmental classes that correlate with the species living in them. It is common practice for a target level of representation to be chosen for each natural community type (or environmental domain). This is not always easy, but endeavouring to determine what these levels should be (preferably on an individual habitat-by-habitat basis rather than a blanket prescription) is one of the highest callings of a conservation biologist. It is altogether appropriate to begin with coarse estimates that can be improved over time. Custom representation targets are preferable to blanket prescriptions. Once an appropriate level of representation of each historic natural community is decided (20 percent, 30 percent, 50 percent, etc.), it may be discovered that less intact habitat of a particular type(s) remains than the target representation amount. This is a sign that some restoration is in order. Madagascar and the dry forests of New Caledonia are prime examples—forest conversion has proceeded so far in these ecoregions that forest restoration is required to meet the most basic habitat representation goals. It should also be noted that each natural community is itself made up of seral stages, and the appropriate mix of seral stages, or more likely the allowable ranges of seral stages, corresponding to a natural range of variation, must be specified.The ability of a natural community 6. Restoration as a Strategy to Contribute to Ecoregion Visions 45 type to support a natural range of seral stages must be protected, or if necessary enhanced, and this may also require some forest restoration activities. An example is the relative lack of primary, or old-growth forest, in many temperate forest ecoregions compared to historic levels. Efforts to increase the proportion of late seral stages are an appropriate application of forest restoration in this case. Many ecoregional programmes, especially those in developed or densely populated countries, have found that the amount of lowland and riparian communities are in short supply— they have already been converted for human uses. Clearly in such situations, restoration will necessarily be an important component of the overall conservation strategy if representation targets are to be met. 2.2. Viable Populations The idea behind this goal is that all species should have conserved viable populations, but in practice it is never possible to plan for all species (if for no other reason than that all species are never really identified). During any large-scale conservation initiative, therefore, focal species are selected for special attention. Focal species are chosen because they are “keystone,” highly threatened endemics, habitat specialists, or because they are very “areasensitive” and act as umbrellas for a number of species with smaller area requirements. The number of focal species chosen will vary from ecoregion to ecoregion, and certainly from priority landscape to priority landscape, but is generally a manageable number of five to 20 species from the above categories. After determining what the list of focal species is, the next step is to determine the number of breeding individuals that represent a viable population, or potentially a viable subpopulation in the case of a priority landscape. This is not a trivial determination, and there is an extensive literature discussing rules of thumb for the number of breeding individuals that constitutes a viable population—with little consensus. In some cases a species-specific and resource-intensive population viability analysis (PVA) will be necessary. If a viable population

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