New Jungles Prompt Debate on Rain Forests

This article in yesterday’s New York Times highlights debate over the importance of regenerated or new forests in tropical rainforest conservation. The article concentrates on a farm in Panama that has since regrown into what appears to be a tropical forest.

These new “secondary” forests are emerging in Latin America, Asia and other tropical regions at such a fast pace that the trend has set off a serious debate about whether saving primeval rain forest — an iconic environmental cause — may be less urgent than once thought. By one estimate, for every acre of rain forest cut down each year, more than 50 acres of new forest are growing in the tropics on land that was once farmed, logged or ravaged by natural disaster.

The debate among scientists is whether the new forests can be considered as replacement for old growth forests that are ecologically richer. Some feel that new forests can mitigate deforestation in other areas. Others believe that the new forests can’t support all the endangered species that an undisturbed forest can. Once scientist characterized the new forests as a “caricature” of a real forest.

In the US virtually all the existing forests are regenerated forests. Many of them are indistinguishable from the original old growth forests. It is likely that over time the new tropical forests will be just like the old ones. Of course, this doesn’t mean that existing rainforests shouldn’t be protected as zealously as possible!


Photo credits: Tropical rainforest in Honduras Howard F. Schwartz, Colorado State University,

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