Should tree plantations count toward reforestation goals? It’s complicated

Globally, tree-planting projects are becoming all the rage, but many are counting on old habits of planting monoculture plantations and calling them forests.

It’s as if a professional cleaner has been let loose in the rainforest. The whistles of birds and croaks of frogs have been vacuumed up, the messy understory cleared away. Where once chaotic tangles of vines and saplings wrestled over flecks of sunlight beneath a shady canopy, now trees of the same height stand tidy and organized in neatly spaced rows beneath the scorching sun.

This was meant to be a reforestation project. But something has gone very wrong.

Government agencies touted the Prey Lang reforestation project in central Cambodia as the country’s first big venture into climate-focused restoration. Cambodia’s Forestry Administration granted South Korean contractor Think Biotech a 34,000-hectare (84,000-acre) reforestation concession for the ostensible purpose of planting trees and mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.

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