Tag Archives: tree planting

Reforesting is useful — but there are some “golden rules” to follow

A group of UK scientists has set out ten “golden rules” for reforestation, in response to some counterproductive large-scale tree-planting schemes. The list shows how forests can be restored with the triple benefit of maximizing carbon capture, recovering ecosystems, and helping people’s livelihoods.

Image credit: Flickr / World Tourism Organization

The idea of planting trees as a low cost and high impact solution to climate change increasingly pops up as a an aid against climate change. Previous studies have highlighted the potential of trees to soak up and store carbon, with countries like the US and the UK starting massive tree-planting campaigns as part of their climate change plans. But it’s not that simple.

There are many tree-planting initiatives underway across the globe, all of which aim to capture carbon to compensate for the huge carbon dioxide emissions that are a major cause of rising global temperatures. But in some cases they don’t actually increase carbon capture and instead have negative consequences, the researchers found.

Kate Hardwick, the lead author of the paper, said in a statement: “When people plant the wrong trees in the wrong place, it can cause considerably more damage than benefits, failing to help people or nature. Our paper sets out to look at these issues and create a framework for people, businesses and policymakers to use for future reforestation.”

The researchers found that most tree-planting projects are falling short of delivering on the three key objectives of carbon sequestration, biodiversity recovery, and sustainable livelihoods. They have set unrealistically high targets and could end up having unforeseen negative consequences, even making the entire project counterproductive.

Potential problems include displacement of native biodiversity, increases in invasive species, a reduction in pollinator services, and a reduction in croplands and thus food production. These negative outcomes are linked to the extensive use of exotic monoculture plantation, instead of using a mix of native tree species, which would be healthier for the local environment

One example mentioned in the study is in South Africa. Non-native Australian acacias were introduced to stabilize dunes and for timber during the 19th and 20th centuries. But they became invasive and spread widely across vast areas of land. Eventually they took over the natural heathlands and grasslands and lowered the water table.

Professor Alexandre Antonelli, a senior author of the paper, said in a statement: “Our paper doesn’t set out to say that tree planting is wrong, it is a brilliant solution to tackle global warming and protect biodiversity, when done correctly and effectively. Instead, we want our paper to challenge the way we currently plant trees.”

The ten golden rules seek for new and restored areas of forest to become long-term carbon sinks that also stop the loss of forest biodiversity and support the livelihoods of local people. The rules cover all stages of the reforestation process, from selecting the right site and the right species to using the forest to generate a sustainable income for local people.

  1. Protect existing forests first. Put local people at the heart of tree-planting projects. Before planning reforestation, always look for ways to protect existing forests, including old‐ and second‐growth, degraded, and planted forests.
  2. Work together. For successful outcomes in both forest protection and reforestation, it is vital to include local communities from the planning stage through to delivery and monitoring.
  3. Aim to maximize biodiversity recovery to meet multiple goals. Rather than being an end goal in itself, reforestation is a means to achieving various goals, typically climate‐change mitigation, biodiversity conservation, socio‐economic benefits (including food security), soil and hydrological stability, and other ecosystem services.
  4. Select appropriate areas for reforestation. Global decisions on which area to reforest should address key criteria such as avoiding previously non-forested lands, connecting reforested sites to the existing forests to expand the forested area where possible, and being aware of displacing activities that could cause deforestation elsewhere.
  5. Use natural regeneration whenever possible. Natural regeneration, the process of natural forest regrowth that occurs spontaneously after the land is abandoned, can be cheaper and more efficient than tree planting if landscape conditions are suitable.
  6. Select species to maximize biodiversity. Maximizing biodiversity depends not only on the number of species reintroduced but also on the functions they perform. The study suggests prioritizing trees that provide mutualistic interactions.
  7. Use resilient plant material. To ensure the survival and resilience of a planted forest, it is vital to use material with appropriate levels of genetic diversity, consistent with local or regional genetic variation.
  8. Plan ahead for infrastructure, capacity, and seed supply. For projects involving tree planting or direct seeding, appropriate infrastructure and seed supply systems are essential. Decisions should be made at least a year in advance on whether to source seeds and produce seedlings in‐house, subcontract these tasks, or purchase plant material from external suppliers.
  9. Learn by doing. Planning decisions should be made by combining both scientific and indigenous knowledge. Traditional knowledge, acquired over many generations by people who have lived close to the forest, is particularly useful.
  10. Make it pay. Income generation by selling forest products from livelihood forests is easily achieved, whereas marketing environmental services from existing and restored native forests are more difficult, particularly in protected areas.

The study was published in the journal Global Change Biology.

Planting trees helps — but location matters

Planting more trees help lower greenhouse gases in the atmosphere as they sequester carbon dioxide during their life. But where you plant them matters as much as the planting itself, according to a new study, which analyzed the actual value of tree planting in the United States.

Credit Flickr Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Researchers and governments have long backed the idea of tree planting as a solution to climate change. A study last year proposed planting a trillion trees to capture two-thirds of the emissions humans produce. The idea was picked up by President Trump, who called this year for a trillion trees to be planted across the globe.

But it turns out there’s more to it than just planting trees and we should consider other factors, according to new research by USDA Forest Service scientists. They found the key behind tree planting is to do it in existing forests that aren’t as tree-filled as they could be. By doing so, humans could increase carbon sequestering capacity by 20%.

To arrive at that estimate, the researchers reviewed publicly available data from more than 130,000 forested plots in the US, which include almost 1.4 million trees. They compared future possibilities with current estimates. Forests currently offset around 14% of carbon emissions every year but that could be increased, they argued.

Almost 33 million hectares of forestland are understocked due to harvesting, natural disturbances, and limited seeding availability, among other factors, the study showed. That’s why concentrating tree planting on understocked forest lands, especially in western states, Florida, and the Northeast, could significantly increase carbon sequestration capacity in the US

“Targeted tree planting on existing productive forestland has the potential to enhance the capacity of forests to provide a multitude of ecosystem services,” according to lead author Grant Domke, lead-author, said in a statement. “Concentrating plantings on productive areas with the fewest trees has greater potential for enhanced carbon sequestration capacity than distributing the same number of trees over larger areas”

In a commentary earlier this year, researchers presented a set of principles that should guide forest enhancement initiatives. Such efforts should focus on protecting and maintaining intact forests instead of planting new ones, they should only be seen as one part of the carbon reduction measures that are needed, and they should balance social and ecological goals.

Planting trees doesn’t ensure they will survive, as seen in many countries. To be successful, tree-planting initiatives need to engage local stakeholders and confront conflicting goals for land use and ensure maximum effectiveness over the long term, the authors write.

The study was published in the journal PNAS.

Planting trees isn’t always the best answer to a warmer world, studies agree

Despite re-forestation has been proposed as a nature-based solution to solve the world’s climate emergency, studies suggest that planting trees is not enough — and could even bring new problems. For instance, one study warned over its impacts on biodiversity and another one dismissed initial estimations of forest carbon absorption.

Credit Flickr

The idea of planting trees as a low cost and high impact solution to climate change has been repeatedly suggested over the last few years. Previous studies have highlighted the potential of trees to soak up and store carbon, with countries starting tree planting campaigns as part of their climate change plans.

US President Donald Trump surprised a few during this year’s State of the Union speech by announcing the US would join a global initiative to plant a trillion trees around the world. Similar programs can be found around the globe, such as the Bonn Challenge, with the aim of restoring degraded and deforested land.

Planting trees can sometimes hurt biodiversity

Nevertheless, scientists have urged caution over tree planting initiatives, claiming they aren’t necessarily a straightforward solution to climate change. Depending on how and where it is done, tree planting can harm native ecosystems and species, reduce water supply and dispossess local landholders.

One of the new studies looked at the financial incentives given to private landowners to plant trees. They are essentially a set of payments that leads to more trees. The researchers looked at the example of Chile, which had a program that subsidized tree planting from 1974 to 2012.

The government program subsidized 75% of the costs of planting new forests. Despite it wasn’t destined for existing forests, some landowners replaced native forests with more profitable new tree plantations, taking advantage of lax enforcement and budgetary limitations.

This meant that the subsidy scheme expanded the area covered by trees but decreased the area of native forests, according to the study. Chile’s native forests are full of biodiversity and store large amounts of carbon, both factors that were negatively affected by the scheme.

“If policies to incentivize tree plantations are poorly designed or poorly enforced, there is a high risk of not only wasting public money but also releasing more carbon and losing biodiversity,” co-author Prof Eric Lambin, from Stanford University, told BBC. “That’s the exact opposite of what these policies are aiming for.”

The second study looked at how much carbon a newly planted forest would be able to absorb from the atmosphere. Until now, many scientists have calculated the amount of carbon that trees can pull down from the air using a fixed ratio. But the ratio might actually depend on local conditions.

A team of researchers performed a case study in northern China, which has seen a growing number of trees being planted by the government not only to mitigate climate change but also to reduce the amount of dust coming from the Gobi Desert. As a result, the newly planted trees decreased the carbon density of the soils, the study found.

“We hope that people can understand that afforestation practices are not one single thing,” Dr Anping Chen, from Colorado State University and a lead author on the study, told BBC. “Afforestation involves many technical details and balances of different parts, and it cannot solve all our climate problems.”

Both studies were published in the journal Nature Sustainability.

Tree-planting campaign raises $8 million in five days

In just five days, more than $8 million have been raised by a global tree-planting campaign, with the participation of US entrepreneur Elon Musk and YouTuber Jeffree Start among many others.

The project has a website through which donations can be made

The project called “Team Trees” seeks to plant 20 million trees around the globe by 2020, with each $1 donation “planting” one tree. The donations go to the Arbor Day Foundation, a US organisation dedicated to planting trees.

It all started in May, when a YouTuber called Jimmy Donaldson, known online as “Mr Beast,” asked what he should do to celebrate his 20 millionth subscriber. One of his fans responded urging him to plant 20 million trees to represent each of his subscribers.

Since then, the YouTuber has collaborated with other content creators and the Arbor Day Foundation to create the #TeamTrees campaign. The idea is simple – for each $1 donation, the Arbor Day Foundation will plant one tree. The trees will reportedly be planted on every continent except Antarctica.

Planting trees across the world is a cheap and easy solution to reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) levels, which is seen as a major factor in climate change. As trees grow, they absorb and store CO2 from the atmosphere, and emit oxygen.

The Arbor Day Foundation says over their lifespan, 100 million trees could absorb eight million tons of carbon – the equivalent of taking more than six million cars off the road for a year.

“The average person can’t afford $150,000 or a million, but we’ve been getting spikes of between 5 and 20 trees every time a large donation comes in and every tree matters, every single donor is important,” Arbor Day Foundation spokesman Danny Cohn told CNN.

Over the past five days, the campaign has gained significant attention online. Elon Musk, co-founder and CEO at Tesla, donated $1m to the project. He also changed his Twitter handle to “Treelon.” The name of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has also appeared on the campaign website’s “most trees” leader board, pledging to plant 150,000 trees.

At the same time, Beauty YouTuber Jeffree Star, who has over 16.4m subscribers, also donated $50,000 to the campaign. YouTube has promised to match the next million dollars of donations.

In a video announcing the launch of the project “Mr Beast” said: “I personally haven’t always been the most environmentally friendly. We only have one Earth, and it’s important we take care of it. People just keep making fun of our generation for ‘retweet activism’ and not actually doing something.”

New law would require all Phillipino students to plant 10 trees to graduate

The new environmental law would ensure that at least 175 million new trees are planted each year, while also cultivating environmental awareness among the younger generations.

Mangrove trees in the Philippines. Image credits: Yinan Chen.

It seems a bit random, but the more you think about it, the more sense it seems to make. The “Graduation Legacy for the Environment Act” passed through the House of Representatives. If implemented, it would require all students (elementary, high school and college students) to plant at least 10 trees before being able to graduate. The idea isn’t only to plant more trees, but also to foster a greener culture among the country’s youth.

Gay Alejano, who proposed the bill, explains:

“With over 12 million students graduating from elementary and nearly five million students graduating from high school and almost 500,000 graduating from college each year, this initiative, if properly implemented, will ensure that at least 175 million new trees would be planted each year. In the course of one generation, no less than 525 billion can be planted under this initiative.” He added that “even with a survival rate of only 10 per cent, this would mean an additional 525 million trees would be available for the youth to enjoy.”

It’s not clear exactly how the logistics of this would work, although the schools would be responsible for enabling and facilitating the planting. A great deal of emphasis will be on planting in areas such as mangrove forests, existing forests, protected areas, military ranges, abandoned mining sites, and selected urban areas. Of course, the planted species will be tailored to every different area, considering the local geography and climate.

The Philippines is one of the most severely deforested countries in the world, with most of the deforestation taking place in the last 40 years. This has had cascading effects on the country, from causing accelerated soil erosion to reducing water quality and threatening indigenous communities, while also increasing the risk of floods and landslides. It is hoped that this law, if passed, can help alleviate these negative effects.

Of course, having millions of students plant trees sounds great, but forcing them to do so has a certain totalitarian ring to it that will definitely not resonate with many people.

Additionally, transportation and logistics, which will also have a negative environmental impact, need to be handled properly and as sustainably as possible — but all in all, this type of forward-thinking policy is what we need to really address the environmental crisis the Philippines (and the world) is facing. What do you think?