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A scientist extols the value of forests shaped by humans

Susanna Hecht didn’t set out to make waves in the conservation community when she traveled to El Salvador in 1999 to help the government with its environmental plan. At the time, the conventional wisdom was that the country was an environmental wasteland, a cautionary example of the devastating effects of deforestation.

But Hecht, a professor of political ecology at the University of California, Los Angeles, didn’t see a ruined landscape. Instead, she saw luxuriant “living fences” between properties, ribbons of forest along rivers, coffee plantations shaded by forest canopies, and whole new woodlands springing from abandoned fields. But were these forests merely overlooked, or were they making a true comeback? Using satellite photographs, Hecht and a colleague found a striking change: The amount of land with at least 30 percent tree cover had jumped by 22 percent from the early 1990s to the early 2000s “Many analysts have failed to note the extent of woodland recuperation,” they reported in a landmark 2007 paper in BioScience.

To read the full interview by John Carey click here.