The Dominican Republic, Haiti and Puerto Rico have been hit hard by storms this year. But while recent flooding and landslides have claimed more than 1,000 lives in Haiti, where highlands have been stripped of trees, the human cost in the other two countries — where hilltop forests thrive — has been much lower.
In this article in Science, T Mitchell Aide and H Ricardo Grau argue that rural-to-urban migration has a positive effect on forests since the land regenerates once agriculture and grazing has stopped. Many Latin American countries have seen their forest cover increase over the past few decades as social changes have driven people away from fields and into cities.
If the land is too degraded or has invasive plant species, however, recovery can be slow, say the authors. Thus, ecological recovery should be integrated with land-use policy and conservation projects. They add that Haiti must focus on reforestation if it is to help avoid such extensive damage in this extent in future.
Reference: Science 305, 1915 (2004)