Ways to restore the forests

Initiatives test solutions for restoring the vegetation in degraded areas

032-035_Restauração florestal_238The initial results from an ecological restoration project at Marupiara Farm in the municipality of Paragominas, in the Brazilian state of Pará, are beginning to appear, four years after the degraded areas there were isolated and the first seedlings of native species such as açaí and andiroba were planted. The use of techniques such as artificial enrichment of forests, which adds new species to the growing vegetation, has led to the recovery of about 60% of the area partially destroyed by timber harvesting in recent decades. The property, which is used for cattle farming, had 17 hectares that were not in compliance with the law in 2011. These lands were supposed to function as Permanent Preservation Areas (APPs) to protect the rivers, the soil and the local biodiversity. The recovery program has also helped diversify the farm’s output, as evidenced by the fact that açaí and wood will soon be brought to market.

The number of cases of this type could potentially increase over the next few years.  In 2014, Brazil’s federal government enacted the implementing regulations for the Rural Environmental Cadastre (CAR), an instrument created to regulate and monitor some 5.6 million rural properties. Completion of the cadastre in 2016 will initiate the Environmental Regulation Program, which will require rural landowners to restore areas that were illegally deforested in the past. “This will likely increase the demand for projects to restore natural formations in Brazil,” says biologist Ricardo Ribeiro Rodrigues, a professor at the Luiz de Queiroz College of Agriculture, University of São Paulo (ESALQ-USP).

Paragominas, one of the principal livestock centers in the Amazon Region, was at the top of the Ministry of the Environment’s deforestation blacklist from 2008 to 2010. With pressure from the Office of the Prosecutor for the Public Interest, the city was able to get off the list with support from The Nature Conservancy, a U.S. nongovernmental organization, which helped register 80% of the properties in the rural environmental cadastre of the state of Pará. Once it was removed from the list, the city faced a new dilemma: how to keep from getting back onto the list of worst deforesters. “There was only one answer: we should adopt modern techniques that can transform livestock-raising in the region,” says Mauro Lucio Costa, owner of Marupiara Farm and former president of the Rural Producers Union of Paragominas.

The union requested help from researchers at ESALQ-USP, who have a wealth of experience in forest restoration studies. “Our research findings come from studies done under the Biota-FAPESP program,” says Ricardo Ribeiro Rodrigues, referring to the initiative begun in 1999 to map the biodiversity of the state of São Paulo. Rodrigues was coordinator of the program from 2004 to 2009. One result was a 2008 document that presents guidelines for conservation and restoration of the biodiversity in the state of São Paulo, based on the knowledge generated by Biota-FAPESP. The document recommends, for instance, that the remaining fragments of vegetation be taken into consideration in recovery projects, with an emphasis on riparian forests—the vegetation growing along the edges of headwaters, rivers, streams, lakes and dams that protects the water from silting up, mainly through erosion, and also acts as a center for seed dispersal and creates ecological corridors.

Intensive livestock farming freed up more space for forest restoration in areas that had been degraded for decades in Paragominas, Pará

Imagem: Reproduction from the book Restauração florestal/Editora Oficina de Textos Intensive livestock farming freed up more space for forest restoration in areas that had been degraded for decades in Paragominas, ParáImagem: Reproduction from the book Restauração florestal/Editora Oficina de Textos

There was one more challenge: convincing the farmers in Paragominas who are averse to change. “Most of them only became engaged when they saw that the restoration projects were viable and could diversify production and generate a profit,” Costa says. On Marupiara Farm, 12 native species were planted in legal reserve areas, where sustainable management is permitted for economic use. These species included ipê, Brazilian walnut, Brazilian cherry and medicinal plants, as well as timber trees such as andiroba. Work was also done to improve the pasture areas, which accommodate 2,000 head of cattle. Pastures on the flatter, more fertile land were improved and thickened. This made it possible to keep more cattle in a smaller space. In 2003, the property had 0.9 head of cattle per hectare; in 2015 that number rose to 3 head per hectare.

Ricardo Rodrigues how heads a project to restore riparian forests, native forests for economic production and degraded forest fragments. The goal is to simulate and understand the effects of implementing the new Forest Code. The study seeks, for example, to identify the potential for using and marketing wood and non-wood products from native species and to develop low-cost methods of restoration. In addition to the academic studies, research groups such as the one at ESALQ are also endeavoring to test practical applications for a number of available techniques. Some of these efforts in Brazil are described in the book Restauração florestal (Forest Restoration), which was authored by Rodrigues along with Sergius Gandolfi and Pedro Brancalion, also professors at ESALQ-USP. The sixth edition of the book was introduced at the Ecological Restoration Symposium held November 9-13, 2015 in São Paulo.

The book updates the theoretical framework drawn up in 2010 to provide technical support for the Atlantic Forest Restoration Pact, an effort that brings together 350 public and private institutions, companies, government agencies and landowners. The goal is to restore 15 million hectares of Atlantic forest by 2050. “Many initiatives have had no guarantee of success, because the projects have been implemented incorrectly,” says Rodrigues.

Forest recovery on farms in rural São Paulo State is one of the initiatives carried out under the Pact. In 2012, three farms in Itu were chosen as sites for restoration activities intended to provide environmental compensation. The initiative works as follows: the owner of a sugarcane plantation that does not have areas suitable for forest recovery in a legal reserve can, for example, invest in remaining natural areas located on another property. “We’re also putting 10,000-square-meter land parcels up for sale on some of the farms. Half the area is restored native vegetation. The objective is to form a forest corridor amidst the buildings,” says business owner and sociologist Neca Setubal, who owns two farms in the area.

Stream protected by riparian forest in Lucas do Rio Verde, state of Mato Grosso...

Imagem: Reproduction from the book Restauração florestal/Editora Oficina de Textos Stream protected by riparian forest in Lucas do Rio Verde, state of Mato Grosso…Imagem: Reproduction from the book Restauração florestal/Editora Oficina de Textos

The current Forest Code permits controlled exploitation of APPs on small properties, provided that species from the local region are used. In areas where sustainable management is permitted, the law authorizes the planting of up to 50% exotic species, such as eucalyptus, among native vegetation. In the state of São Paulo, the first resolution published by the state environmental department named 247 tree species to be used in restoration projects. The Botanical Institute, which is in charge of the listing, recently announced a revised and expanded list of 2,315 species that includes not only trees, but also tree ferns, shrubs, lianas, herbs, and other vegetation types. “The forest is not just trees. Successful restoration depends on the biodiversity involved and the genetic variability,” says Luiz Mauro Barbosa, director of the Institute. In 2001, most of the recovery areas used no more than 30 species, nearly always the same ones. And nurseries concentrated on producing just a few types of trees. Now, the state has 207 nurseries that produce about 40 million seedlings of 800 arboreal species each year.

The expanded list of species will be a strategic cornerstone of the Headwaters Program, a river conservation initiative based on forest restoration launched by the São Paulo State government in 2015. The objective is to protect 6,000 kilometers of streams and restore some 20,000 hectares of riparian forest. There have been three plantings, in the cities of Joanópolis, Piracaia and Jacareí, using more than 270,000 seedlings. The Green Initiative, a nongovernmental organization that will take part in projects under the state program, is one of the entities already at work in the area around the water system that supplies the city of São Paulo and other cities. The organization is participating through the Water Production Program run by the National Water Agency (ANA), in response to a call for proposals under the BNDES Atlantic Forest Initiative. “In three years, we were able to determine that planting seedlings improved the water quality,” says Pedro Barral de Sá, who heads forest projects for the Green Initiative.

For the past three years, the municipality of Machadinho, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, has been conducting a program to improve water quality and increase production by protecting headwaters. The initiative is devoted in part to associating the production of yerba mate with forests around the headwaters of rivers and streams. Several stakeholders are involved in the project, including the municipal government and the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation’s forestry division (Embrapa Florestas). “Over 50 properties are involved. We’ve now recovered a number of headwaters, and the case has become a model for headwaters protection and ecological restoration. It even includes training for technicians,” says Emiliano Santarosa, an analyst at Embrapa Florestas who is in charge of technology transfer operations in the region.

Another recovery method implemented by Embrapa is the agrosilvopastoral system, which combines agriculture, livestock- raising and forests, and can increase productivity in the field without the need to expand the agricultural area into virgin forest. Embrapa is developing projects of this type primarily with dairy or beef cattle  farmers, who plant trees in pastureland. Partial shade offers comfort to the animals and, when properly planned, results in higher milk productivity, for example. In Paraná State, there are over 40 properties that serve as models for the use of this system in projects carried out by Embrapa in partnership with the Paraná Institute for Technical Assistance and Rural Extension.

... and an unprotected stream in Piracicaba, in rural São Paulo State: vegetation prevents streams from silting up

Imagem: Reproduction from the book Restauração florestal/Editora Oficina de Textos … and an unprotected stream in Piracicaba, in rural São Paulo State: vegetation prevents streams from silting upImagem: Reproduction from the book Restauração florestal/Editora Oficina de Textos

In São Paulo, experiments that combine sugarcane planting with native forest preservation are revealing a way for bioenergy production and forests to coexist in the same space. A 2012 study by Brazilian and American researchers showed that native forest can store 18 times more carbon than can sugarcane. And in a more recent survey, researchers at USP, along with colleagues at the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), showed that the state of São Paulo has a deficit of 800,000 hectares of forest that should be recovered. “One solution is to plant the sugarcane around forests, or vice-versa,” suggests Marcos Buckeridge, a co-author of that study and coordinator of the National Institute of Science and Technology of Bioethanol (INCT-Bio). “In forest restoration, the difficulties lie in making the experiments work on a larger scale,” he notes.

Ricardo Rodrigues, the ESALQ-USP biologist, agrees with that assessment. “The projects implemented in Brazil are so far rather localized,” he points out.  Expanding the initiatives, says Rodrigues, depends on strategies to lower the cost of forest restoration projects and facilitate economic gains. In Itu, for example, the forest renewal on the three farms cost about R$20,000 per hectare. Because of the high degree of degradation, they had to plant a full complement of seeds or seedlings. “These are expensive projects, and the costs need to be brought down through the use of scientific know-how,” Rodrigues says.

Ecological restoration of riparian forests, native forest of economic production and of degraded forest fragments (in APP and RL) based on restoration ecology of reference ecosystems in order to scientifically test the precepts of the New Brazilian Forest code (nº 2013/50718-5); Grant Mechanism Research Grant – Biota Program – Thematic Project; Principal Investigator Ricardo Ribeiro Rodrigues (ESALQ-USP); Investment R$ 1,115,645.02.