By Robin L. Chazdon
Director, PARTNERS network
Science Advisory Board, WeForest

Doing small tasks well is relatively easy, but doing big, complex, and long-lived things well is a far more daunting mission that requires vision, leadership, adaptive management, consultation, and collaboration among many actors. To bring forest and landscape restoration to the scale that is needed globally we need to find ways to make big things happen well long into the future. Forest and landscape restoration (FLR) is a process that aims to regain ecological integrity and enhance human well-being in landscapes that have lost forest cover, forest qualities, and forest-based contributions to people. The Bonn Challenge to bring 150 M ha into restoration by 2020 and the NY Declaration to restore 350 M ha by 2030 are based on FLR concepts, principles, and practices. To date, countries have committed over 150 M ha for restoration of forests and landscapes. We are entering a new era of implementation with support for regional initiatives—such as Initiative 20 x 20 in Latin America and AFR100 in Africa—and unprecedented mobilization of political will. Attention is shifting from committed hectares to actions and outcomes. HOW will sustainable, effective, and large-scale restoration happen for the benefit of people and nature? We have turned the corner and must shift gears for a sustained, uphill climb. Now is the time to act.

The FLoRES task force at our workshop at the University of São Paulo/“Luiz de Queiroz” College of Agriculture, Piracicaba-SP, Brazil

This urgent topic brought an international group of scientists, policy experts, students, and organizations together at the University of São Paulo/“Luiz de Queiroz” College of Agriculture, Piracicaba-SP, Brazil on 5-7 September, 2017. The core group organized by WeForest included the Instituto de Pesquisas Ecológicas (IPÊ), Secretariat of the Environment for the State of São Paulo, Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Imaflora, University of the Sunshine Coast, People and Reforestation in the Tropics Network (PARTNERS), The Nature Conservancy-Brazil, University of São Paulo, Federal University of São Carlos, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, and World Resources Institute-Brazil. We came from different camps, experiences, and backgrounds, but converged on a unified goal: to explore the significance of an FLR Standard, a set of benchmarks for motivating better outcomes and practices. We discussed: How do you know FLR when you see it? What are the elements, principles, criteria, and indicators of FLR that collectively constitute a holistic approach to restoring forests and landscapes? How would an FLR Standard be used? What process is needed to develop an FLR Standard based on a broad consultative process and rigorous methods of engagement and participation of all sectors and organizations involved in FLR practice and policy?

We lack a clear definition of what FLR looks like on the ground and how to improve current practices. International standards for ecosystem restoration are now being developed, but these do not address the complex nature of landscapes composed of both productive and natural ecosystems where social factors are at least as important as ecological factors. A Standard will help to ensure that restoration in agricultural landscape mosaics brings benefits to multiple stakeholders and leaves the landscape better than it was. It will guide how we can enhance tree and forest cover in landscapes to improve socioeconomic and environmental outcomes and to increase socioecological resilience to economic and climate shocks.

A Standard for FLR will operationalize the principles of holistic restoration at scales that balance outcomes of productive and protective land uses. FLR programs that follow the Standard reduce risk and uncertainty to investors in landscape management, and increase attactiveness to investors, and public and private sector financing. A Standard would stimulate corporate investments in FLR programs that improve the reliable flow of high quality water, sustainably provide agricultural, timber, or non-timber products, while also supporting a stable, food-secure, and productive labor force and engaged community stakeholders. Supporting FLR will become good business practice, bringing many returns.

Government agencies would use the Standard to develop cost-effective FLR programs that minimize land-use conflicts, enhance productivity and livelihoods, increase connectivity for wildlife within landscapes, and empower local governance arrangements. Following the Standard would likely transform business-as-usual sectoral approaches to large-scale reforestation.

For organizations working on forest restoration within a specific landscape context, the FLR Standard would provide a point of reference for developing a holistic set of activities, stakeholder engagement, and restoration approaches that will ensure multiple social and environmental outcomes for current and future generations. FLR is an incremental process that takes multiple generations. Improvements and new functions can be implemented along the way, using the Standard as a roadmap.

The workshop stimulated our intellect and our imaginations, initiating a pioneering effort to make FLR happen on a large scale and for the best long-term outcomes. We welcome your engagement, ideas, skepticism, and support as we move forward to develop the FLR Standard as a collaborative global effort.

Please join us and watch this space!

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