Forest is mending, scientists report

A Madagascar forest damaged by illegal logging is recovering, writes the scientific team who visited the site in 2005 and again in May 2007.

“The forest is recovering through natural regeneration,” the team wrote in a comprehensive report released in September. “At this point, there do not seem to be major incursions of invasive species.” A logging road has been rendered impassable to vehicles, the team wrote, due to erosion, gullying, landslides, and bridge washouts: “This is an excellent development, which works against further exploitation of the area. The road should not be repaired or maintained.”

Led by Sarah Karpanty, assistant professor of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences at Virginia Tech, the team included SANREM Program Director Dillaha and Charles Welch, a research scientist at Duke University’s Lemur Center. The three visited Madagascar at the request of USAID to study restoration activities and progress in the Ambohilero Forest. Among partners in the site assessment were USAID’s MIARO program, Conservation International, and the World Wildlife Fund.

Before being shut down in 2004, a logging company used heavy machinery to build the 17 kilometer road through the formerly pristine Didy reserve, then harvested the timber beside the road. Scientists feared that the swath would disrupt migration of lemurs, which typically travel through tree canopies. May’s follow-up visit focused on restoration sites where trees had been planted, natural regeneration in established plots, and results of erosion control practices.

“Ambohilero is an unusual opportunity to observe and study passive restoration in Madagascar,” the scientists wrote in their report. “The logging operations in this region have impaired ecosystem function in ways very similar to forest conversion to agriculture. … Lessons learned at this site can be translated to multiple other similar situations.” Among its recommendations, the team wrote that “national protocols are needed for construction of roads in forested and other natural areas. Revegetation and erosion-control activities should occur simultaneously with road construction, and provisions must be made to include natural corridors or bridges across the road for wildlife movement. … Capacity-building for ecological restoration is a priority.”

In summarizing the expedition, Karpanty said, “We were pleasantly surprised at the level of natural regeneration that we observed. While it will still be many decades before the gaps in the forest begin to close enough for some threatened lemurs to cross the road, we hope that, if we can continue to minimize human incursions into this region, the forest will recover and serve as a model for the potential of natural regeneration. The government of Madagascar and major donors such as USAID are committed to this, project which is greatly facilitating progress on site.”

The team's full report is available for download: Ambohilero Action Plan (PDF).