We hear a lot about the importance of preserving the Earth’s major rainforests. What about forested areas that aren’t as vast?
The Amazon. The Australian brush. The Indonesian palm rainforests. The Congo Rainforest and Basin. A lot of these major rainforests are familiar names to people concerned about the fight to protect the planet. And for good reason.
These wooded areas are under threat due to climate change and deforestation, and they play a significant role in our planet’s health.
These vast stretches of tree-covered lands contribute significantly to our planet’s health because of their ability to sequester carbon and promote biodiversity. They serve as carbon sinks that stabilize the earth’s climate. They also host large percentages of the world’s biodiversity.
That said, our concern for them shouldn’t come at the cost of neglecting smaller woodland areas. These areas also play a significant role in our planet’s health. They have strengths that complement those of our larger forest areas.
Here are 3 big reasons for conserving small forests:
1. Small forests help protect ecosystems and communities against climate uncertainty.
Small forests have a cooling effect on local climates and soil, strengthen soil against erosion, and provide habitats for insect and animal species. The microbiome of forest soil is rich in decomposed organic matter, fungi, and bacteria, which in turn produces more densely nutritious food supplies for communities. Small forests also provide a safeguard against spread of illness. In a time where adaptation and mitigation is crucial for community and environmental resilience, there is some security found in active forest management.
“The value of these tiny forests has never been unraveled before, although the occurrence of small woodlands in agricultural landscapes has increased due to forest fragmentation," explained Alicia Valdés, co-author of a study that emphasized the importance of these small forests.
The study, titled High ecosystem service delivery potential of small woodlands in agricultural landscapes concluded that “despite their lower multidiversity, smaller woodlands have the potential to deliver multiple services at higher performance levels per area than larger woodlands of similar age, probably due to positive edge effects on the supply potential of several ecosystem services.”
2. The strength of smaller forests is in their edges.
The edge of a forest is special. The outer rim of a forest offers greater food diversity for various species, amplified carbon storage, and interaction with other areas outside of the densely forested areas.
If you’re a fan of the crisp edge of a brownie, you’ll understand this analogy. Making four small pans of brownies will give you more edge areas than a giant sheet. As with brownies, there are a number of different species with a strong preference for this edge space.
Edges of these forests receive more sunlight compared to central areas. This results in the better growth of berries and seedlings, in turn attracting deer, birds, and other animal species. The waste from these animals helps further enrich the soil.
In many parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, these forests border communities where a large portion of the world’s agricultural activities take place. When the people in those areas maintain sustainable land practices, the soil beneath small woodland areas can absorb more carbon.
Does this mean we should halt forest conservation efforts as they’re currently in place to scale up our efforts to grow small woodlands? No, not necessarily. In fact, without an educated and empowered community nearby, these micro-forests are vulnerable to raid clearing. However, they are an often overlooked tool in the effort to sequester carbon.
3. Focus on small forests offers a more effective solution for deforestation.
In spite of the significant contribution that micro-forests make towards soil health, carbon sequestration, and agricultural production, these small woodlands are often overlooked by public policies and efforts to promote afforestation.
A mega-forest is much more consistent with people’s perceptions about what a healthy ecosystem looks like. However, a shift in this perception might help to ensure better protection and promotion of these smaller forest spaces.
Key to better cultivating these micro-forests is empowering the communities around them. They are the source of food and soil health for many agriculture-dependent, rural communities around the world.
When the communities near these forests are empowered, they can benefit from the increased agricultural production. They also become motivated protectors of these forest spaces, understanding their importance to the health of their farms and homeland.
Plant With Purpose has been actively working to protect these smaller forests for years. Focusing on smaller forests has been a more effective and viable path towards reforestation.
In Haiti, these woodlands almost always surround homes. Helping people understand the role they could play in their family’s health has been valuable in reversing deforestation. In Ethiopia, small forests traditionally surround churches. Integrating spiritual disciplines with regenerative agriculture and forestry has the potential to stop the country’s struggle with desertification.
We believe that the road to renewal and abundance involves understanding that every part of creation has a purpose.
To help communities in rural areas gain the skills and knowledge needed to better protect small woodland areas, make a donation here.