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Essay | Forest Resilience in the 21st Century: what is it and why is it important?

Tuesday 9 June | By Buba Bojang, Bangor University, Wales, UK


There is no single explanation of deforestation and the causes of forest, degradation around the globe. The rush for land mainly for agriculture, clearing of wood and non-wood forest products, the destruction of timber for construction, overgrazing of animals, fire, pest and disease outbreak are typical examples. However, these drivers varied from one region of the world to another. Poor government policies, climate change, extreme poverty, and food insecurity are all posing to the unprecedented challenges to the existing stresses and disturbances on forest (FAO, 2011 p.44).

In many parts of the world, climate change has significantly affected the productivity of trees in the form of drought and extreme temperatures. Other changes include sea-level rise, water erosion, flood, wind among others (FAO, 2006 p.10)

Contemporary, climate change is not only damaging to the world’s forest but threatening the delivery of forest goods for the livelihoods of people such as wood and non-wood. It is estimated that 1.6 billion people globally depend on environmental services of the forest for a living and other crucial roles forest play are the provision of water supply and the protection against water and wind erosion, enhancing habitats for local people and other species. Forest provide employment opportunities for people and a great source of income for governments plus a range of products such as fuel, protection, income, medicine for forest-dependent household (World Bank, 2002 p.3)

World bank 2002 estimated that there are more than 1.2 billion living under the poverty threshold earning less than 1.5 dollars a day. The posing challenges of climate change impacts on forest significantly affect the poorest of the poor. Therefore, it is imperative to address the negative impact on the forest and the people who depend on it for a living. This

essay argues that any attempt to achieve forest resilience through restoration would first attempt to specify a working definition of the concept.

Therefore, the first section of this essay will attempt to define and critically examine the controversial definition of the term resilience and how it is measured. The second section of this essay will focus on the two concepts of ecological and engineering resilience and how forests ecosystems might be achieved in practice. The third section will look at the importance of forest resilience after disturbance and why it is important? The final section

will critically argue that if resilience is incorporated in environmental policies, restoration of forest resilience is an achievable goal.

Forest Resilience, what is it and why is it important? 

There is considerable uncertainty about how resilience should be defined and measured in practice, this essay will review the definition that has been proposed including ecological and engineering resilience and why it is fundamentally important. First, resilience has been defined by many authors and some of these authors defined resilience as ‘the ability of the system to return to the original state after a disturbance( Scheffer et al, 2002), the capacity of a system to experience shocks while retaining essentially the same function (Walker et al, 2004), the length of time taken to return to the pre-disturbance state (Donohue et al, 2013) and the ability of a system to maintain its identity in the face of internal change and external shocks and disturbances (Cumming et al, 2005). Resilience is important because it brings a destroyed forest back to its natural state and continues to provide provision, supporting, cultural, and regulating ecosystem services. This is important as millions of people depend on their livelihood on the forest for survival and income generation. Fundamentally, the word resilience can be divided into two concepts. First, is the time required for a forest to return to its equilibrium state after a disturbance commonly known as engineering resilience (Pimm 1991) and the second ecological or ecosystem resilience is a situation a system can

absorb before changing to another stable state (Brand and Jax, 2007, p.71). 

To adequately build resilience in the forest sector, policymakers, government, and stakeholders must ensure that adequate technical know-how, legal frameworks, and good governance mechanisms must be adopted at both local and national levels as the case of The Gambia. The role of sustainable forest management in building climate change is important because forest plays an important economic, environmental, social, and cultural value in any country. It is important to adopt key strategies in increasing forest resilience and trees to climate change through maintaining a healthy forest, restoring degrading forests and conserving, enhancing and using biodiversity.

In the case of The Gambia, The Nyambai forest park was burnt to ashes following a bush fire in May 2019. This greatly affected not only income generation for the government but the local people in terms of collecting firewood for fuel and other forest use. 

Critics claimed that the forest can never return to its natural state after experiencing a fire outbreak. However, proponents claimed that the forest will return to its natural state. The latter was the case, the tree species planted in this forest plantation is the first to be introduced in The Gambia in 1952 as a trial specie called Gmelina. The trial ended in 1960 and it was highly recommended for its resilience to pests, bush fire and other tree

diseases such as dieback which is a common tree killer in the country.

Importantly Gmelina has short term rotation of 25 years. In sums, the whole forest returned to its natural state late this in the rainy season. Therefore, it is important to grow trees that are resistant to shocks.