Conserve Natural Forests (CNF) is an environmental non-profit foundation from Thailand that aims to be an ambassador for forest restoration, sustainable land practices and wildlife conservation in Northern Thailand. Since 2014, they work to rebuild the beautiful and diverse tropical forests of the region, through restoration and conservation activities in the Mae Hong Son and Chiang Mai Provinces.
The overall goal is to preserve and enrich ecosystem balance and function, by restoring degraded landscapes and reintroducing endangered species to their natural habitat. Project areas are mostly in public lands such as schools, temples, army bases, national parks and land owned by the government or the royal family. Private lands are also included whenever it can ensured that the new trees are properly protected long-term and that a compatible way of extracting non-timber forest products is possible.
In addition, CNF works with local communities to promote agroforestry and other sustainable farming practices through education, training, and capacity-building. The original project site, located a few kilometres south of Pai, includes a tree nursery, demonstration forest, and organic farm. The land also functions as a semi-wild rehabilitation site for a number of endangered species, including birds, tortoises, and the Asian elephant.
CNF strives for an optimal balance between widespread and effective forest restoration – measured by the conservation of biodiversity, ecological health, and carbon sequestration – in conjunction with improving the economic and environmental quality of life for the local communities. As such, there is a strong support from both the communities and the Thai government, which enforces strict regulations regarding deforestation or illegal harvesting of wood.
There is a focus on practical, proven methods of forest restoration in order to mitigate the damages resulting from deforestation and forest degradation. The reforestation projects aim to offset the effects of climate change and protect native ecosystems, including the preservation of local old-growth forests and the restoration of nearby degraded landscapes. Since early 2020, there are also mangrove planting activities in the south of Thailand where an area of 640ha was made available in a state park.
The reforestation projects are guided by the Framework Species Method. Between 25 and 40 native species are planted on the restoration sites, depending on a variety of factors such as altitude, average temperature, soil quality, and the species composition of the surrounding ecosystem. Each tree provides a specific service in the forest, like fixing nitrogen in the soil or retain moisture during the dry season. Fast-growing pioneer trees flourish in the sunlight and shade out weeds, while climax trees grow slower but live longer. A mix of fruiting and flowering trees are planted to attract seed-dispersing animals and insects, in order to enrich biodiversity and promote healthy succession.
A variety of Assisted Natural Regeneration (ANR) techniques – including weeding, mulching, enrichment plantings, and natural fertilization – are used to maximize the success rates of the trees. The projects typically require 3 to 5 years of active management. Maintenance is performed by CNF’s staff at most of the planting sites, although at the army bases this is ensured by military personnel. Forest science experts monitor the planting sites, performing Rapid Site Assessments and calculating carbon sequestration levels. There is also an internship program and interns regularly assisting with monitoring tasks.
After about five years, nature takes over and the forest becomes self-regulating. Birds and mammals eat the seeds and disperse them to other areas, naturally increasing the size of the forests. The results have been astounding, but there remains a great deal of work left to be done!