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You can’t save the trees unless you understand the people, says Forestry Assoc. Prof. Gary Bull - photo by Martin Dee
You can’t save the trees unless you understand the people, says Forestry Assoc. Prof. Gary Bull - photo by Martin Dee

UBC Reports | Vol. 53 | No. 11 | Nov. 1, 2007

The Lost Forests of Afghanistan

UBC Profs Use Science and Sociology to Help Restore World’s Forests

By Lorraine Chan

This month, Assoc. Prof. Gary Bull from UBC’s Faculty of Forestry is spending time in Kabul training an Afghan field crew. He is joining forces with the New-York based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funded project. Bull and UBC Forestry PhD student KiJoo Han are leading an effort to help protect and restore Afghanistan’s remaining forest in the north east province of Nuristan.

Over the past 20 years, in some provinces, Afghani farmers have participated in deforestation rates of up to 70 per cent. Currently, the country has 1.3 per cent forest cover, one of the lowest in the world.

“If you’re poor enough, you’ll cut down and burn every last tree,” Bull says. “Some of Afghanistan’s national parks are largely denuded and people are going after the remaining scraps for fuel.”

Bull’s job will be to deploy Afghani enumerators to conduct 350 surveys among Nuristan villagers. Bordering Pakistan, Nuristan is a remote and rugged region that has seen much conflict, and more recently insurgent ambushes.

While an outsider would face great danger, Bull says locals can do the job in greater safety. The enumerators will gather data on forest uses, household behaviour, income and education levels, taking into account the region’s caste system in which the population is divided into livestock grazers, wood carvers and the landless. Bull says each caste would need a different financial incentive structure to help both restore and protect forests.

“If you don’t understand what motivates people, you’ll never help them rebuild,” says Bull, noting that environmental protocols and standards to combat climate change can severely impact the poor. About 75 per cent of Afghan people live in rural areas.

“We examine the appropriate public policy responses because if you ignore the people, especially the rural populations, it’ll end up in disaster,” says Bull, who specializes in forestry, economics and policy.

To avoid these pitfalls, UBC has pioneered a multi-faceted approach to sustainable forest management. The Faculty of Forestry assembles interdisciplinary teams that encompass sociologists, foresters, biologists, engineers, chemists and biometricians.

The Faculty of Forestry is providing its expertise to China, where the government is planting 13 million hectares of new forest -- an area about half the size of B.C.’s productive forests -- and to Mozambique, where non-profit organizations are investing in agro-forestry, which pays farmers to plant trees between their crops.

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Funding Reforestation Through Carbon Offsetting

Pay people to plant trees rather than destroy forests, and fund these alternatives through carbon offsetting programs.

This two-pronged attack will help alleviate poverty and sustain the world’s forests,” says Gary Bull, an associate professor at the Faculty of Forestry.

Bull says that UBC has produced some of the world’s most sophisticated tools to evaluate ecosystems and the services they provide, which include carbon storage, biodiversity and water.

“UBC leads because we’ve been doing this kind of modeling over the past 20 years, given that Canada’s ecosystems are quite complex,” says Bull.

For example, Forestry Profs. John Nelson and Hamish Kimmins have developed impressive large- and small-scale modeling tools that can track nutrients and carbon within dynamic ecosystems and landscapes. These models compile data from ecosystem processes and human activity that influence carbon storage in everything from the soil and fallen leaves to stems and branches.

In fact, Bull says credible scientific data will make the entire process of carbon offsetting, more accountable and attractive.

“If you have reliable systems to measure, manage and monitor carbon, you increase the effectiveness of how you disperse money to reach your goals.

“As well, you can hold the sellers to account for what they promised to deliver in terms of carbon offsetting.”


Last reviewed 31-Oct-2007

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