Today is the International Day of Forests, and the Wet Tropics Management Authority is celebrating by announcing that we can create economic opportunities while tackling climate change through forest restoration. Released last year, The State of Wet Tropics Report 2020–2021: Growing opportunities—landscape restoration for biodiversity and ecosystem recovery, identifies forest restoration as a practical, on-ground action that can repair past damage and improve the resilience of both natural ecosystems and human communities.
Professor Stephen Williams a rainforest ecologist who has conducted three decades of research on the impacts of climate change on the Wet Tropics, is a director of the Authority’s board.
Professor Williams said: “This State of Wet Tropics Report recognises that restoring ecosystem connectivity across the Wet Tropics landscape remains essential to improve the ecological resilience of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, especially as the impacts of climate change are already being felt in the region, particularly in the mountain tops.”
“We have already observed species shifting distributions and declining overall. We need habitat connectivity to give species the best chance possible to move with the climate by ensuring smart, strategically driven restoration.”
“Corridors that let species migrate to higher elevation refugia is critical,” Professor Williams said.
Executive Director of the Authority, Scott Buchanan said: “Landscape restoration provides social and economic benefits as well as promoting the health of the Wet Tropics forests and their unique wildlife.”
“Forest restoration brings together landholders, government agencies, Rainforest Aboriginal Peoples, researchers, community conservation groups and the tourism and recreation industry.”
“New opportunities to fund or generate revenue from restoration are developing, including carbon markets and payments for ecosystem services.”
“Growth of a sustainable restoration industry, promoted by these new opportunities, will help scale up landscape reforestation,” Mr Buchanan said.
Landscape restoration work is already occurring across the Wet Tropics, building on four decades of voluntary and funded work by community groups and other organisations. Government funded initiatives, including from the Queensland and Australian Governments, projects funded and delivered by Indigenous Land and Sea Rangers, and more recently from land and conservation philanthropic organisations, have all contributed to the ongoing work.
However, the current pace of restoration will not achieve the outcomes required to support future climate adaptation.
The report provides a snapshot of reforestation efforts in the Wet Tropics, the different techniques used and their outcomes.
It also explains the ecological and socio-economic challenges and how landscape restoration can attract a diverse range of funding options for landholders and investors.
Professor Williams said: “It has never been more important to remind ourselves of the value and benefits of restoring our Wet Tropics landscapes.”
The Area contains the world’s oldest continuously surviving tropical rainforests, is home to ancient living cultures, and is ranked the second-most irreplaceable World Heritage site on Earth.
“Ensuring the health of Wet Tropics forests is already a core goal of World Heritage management. Landscape restoration is one of the most effective ways we can achieve that goal.”
“Now under a changing climate, we must accept the best available science, act strategically, together, and immediately, so that the Wet Tropics has the best possible chance to successfully adapt and so our legacy extends far beyond the next decade,” Professor Williams said.