Monoculture tree plantations are "green deserts" not forests, say activists
Jeremy Hance, mongabay.com
September 19, 2008
"Tree plantations are not forests. A plantation is a highly uniform agricultural system that replaces natural ecosystems and their rich biodiversity,” Sandy Gauntlett of the Pacific Indigenous Peoples Environment Coalition said. “The trees planted are geared to the production of a single raw material, whether it is timber, pulp, rubber, palm oil or others.”
The products grown on industrial tree plantations depend on the region. In Southeast Asia and the Pacific, palm oil has resulted in large-scale conversion of tropical forests, especially in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea. In Africa, plantations produce rubber, wood pulp, and cacao, in addition to palm oil. Nigeria, Cameroon, Liberia, Swaziland, and South Africa are particularly affected by monoculture tree plantations. Pine and eucalyptus are grown in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, and Uruguay. Palm oil for biofuels is also grown in Colombia and Venezuela. Malaysia has recently stated that it intends to expand palm oil into the Amazon.
Climate Change and Biodiversity
Recent studies have shown that monoculture tree plantations have a twofold impact globally: loss of biodiversity and net emitters of carbon.
The forestry industry has argued for year that tree plantations should receive carbon credits for being carbon sinks, however recent research reveals the opposite. Last week a report published in Nature showed old-growth forests store carbon for centuries, whereas plantations and young forests are actually net emitters of carbon due to the disturbance of the soil and the degradation of the previous ecosystem. The study, which analyzed 519 forest plots worldwide, found that boreal and temperate zone forests in the Northern Hemisphere sequester 0.8 to 1.8 billion tons of carbon annually.
Several studies have demonstrated that when an ecosystem is destroyed for a monoculture plantation, biodiversity suffers. A study of frogs and lizards in the Amazon showed that primary forest contained far more species, whereas industrial plantations only allowed the survival of a few habitat-generalists. Another study in the Amazon showed an overall loss of 25 percent of species from primary forest to plantations. Bird, amphibian, and lizard biodiversity fell by 40 to 60 percent. In addition, the study’s authors say they believe their results “underestimated” overall loss, since the plantations they studied were adjacent to primary forest.
More Trees Less Assholes! Yes! But more forests and less tree plantations!