By Rachel Cernansky
After returning home from college to northwest Cameroon in 2004, Tabi Joda felt a sense of profound loss. Trees that once bore fruit, provided medicine, and created shade had been cut down. Rich soils had turned to dust. “The land I used to know as a forest was no longer a forest,” he recalls. Joda, a business consultant, got to work, calling on what he’d learned in school and from local knowledge passed down over generations. He collected seeds, started a tree nursery, and launched an agroforestry initiative that enlisted local people in planting trees. They chose species that provided food and timber, supported livelihoods, and helped wildlife thrive. The effort soon spread to nearby communities. And Joda ultimately became a vocal advocate for an even bigger dream: the Great Green Wall, which aims to transform the lives of some 100 million people by planting a mosaic of trees, shrubs, and grasses along a corridor stretching some 8000 kilometers across Africa by 2030.
Since the African Union first launched the Great Green Wall in 2007, the initiative has struggled to make headway. Made up of local efforts across 11 countries, it has reached just 16% of its overall goal to vegetate 150 million hectares. But last month, the project—which analysts estimate will cost at least $30 billion—got a major boost: a pledge of $14 billion in funding over the next 5 years from a coalition of international development banks and governments. The money is meant to accelerate the effort to sustain livelihoods, conserve biodiversity, and combat desertification and climate change, French President Emmanuel Macron said in announcing the pledges on 11 January.
Environmental restoration and community development specialists welcomed the news. But many are also apprehensive. In recent years, research by ecologists, economists, and social scientists has shown that many forestry projects around the world have failed because they didn’t adequately address fundamental social and ecological issues. Project leaders often didn’t ask communities what kinds of trees they wanted, planted species in places where they didn’t belong, and did little to help the saplings survive. “Tree planting is often viewed as the simple act of digging a hole,” forest scientists Pedro Brancalion of the University of São Paulo, Piracicaba, and Karen Holl of the University of California, Santa Cruz, noted last year in a review of agroforestry projects in the Journal of Applied Ecology. “But this short-term, naïve view has resulted in large quantities of money being spent on … efforts that have failed almost entirely.”
It’s a problem that Joda knows well. “I have traveled the breadth of Africa and seen it everywhere,” he says. “Trees are planted, but they are not taken care of and so they never grow.” The question now, he and others say, is whether Great Green Wall projects fueled by the fresh burst of cash will heed those hard-learned lessons.
By Nell Greenfieldboyce
An ancient, well-preserved tree that was alive the last time the Earth’s magnetic poles flipped has helped scientists pin down more precise timing of that event, which occurred about 42,000 years ago.
This new information has led them to link the flipping of the poles to key moments in the prehistoric record, like the sudden appearance of cave art and the mysterious extinction of large mammals and the Neanderthals. They argue that the weakening of the Earth’s magnetic field would have briefly transformed the world by altering its climate and allowing far more ultraviolet light to pour in.
Their provocative analysis, in the journal Science, is sure to get researchers talking. Until now, scientists have mostly assumed that magnetic field reversals didn’t matter much for life on Earth — although some geologists have noted that die-offs of large mammals seemed to occur in periods when the Earth’s magnetic field was weak.
The Earth is a giant magnet because its core is solid iron, and swirling around it is an ocean of molten metal. This churning creates a huge magnetic field, one that wraps around the planet and protects it from charged cosmic rays coming in from outer space.
Sometimes, for reasons scientists do not fully understand, the magnetic field becomes unstable and its north and south poles can flip. The last major reversal, though it was short-lived, happened around 42,000 years ago.
Giant kauri trees can live for thousands of years and can end up well preserved in bogs. “The trees themselves are quite unique,” says Cooper. “They’re a time capsule in a way that you don’t really get anywhere else in the world.”
Inside trees that lived during the last magnetic flip, the researchers and their colleagues looked for a form of carbon created when cosmic rays hit the upper atmosphere. More of these rays come in when the magnetic field is weak, so levels of this carbon go up.
The trees, with their calendar-like set of rings, took in this kind of carbon and laid it down as wood. That let the researchers see exactly when levels rose and peaked and then fell again. One tree in particular had a 1,700-year record that spanned the period of the greatest changes.
By creating a precise timeline, the research team was able to compare the magnetic field’s weakening to other well-established timelines in the archaeological and climate records.
By Helen Briggs
Tree planting is a brilliant solution to tackle climate change and protect biodiversity, but the wrong tree in the wrong place can do more harm than good, say experts at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
The rules include protecting existing forests first and involving locals.
Forests are essential to life on Earth.
They provide a home to three-quarters of the world’s plants and animals, soak up carbon dioxide, and provide food, fuels and medicines.
But they’re fast disappearing; an area about the size of Denmark of pristine tropical forest is lost every year.
“Planting the right trees in the right place must be a top priority for all nations as we face a crucial decade for ensuring the future of our planet,” said Dr Paul Smith, a researcher on the study and secretary general of conservation charity, Botanic Gardens Conservation International, in Kew…
The 10 golden rules are:
Protect existing forests first
Keeping forests in their original state is always preferable; undamaged old forests soak up carbon better and are more resilient to fire, storm and droughts. “Whenever there’s a choice, we stress that halting deforestation and protecting remaining forests must be a priority,” said Prof Alexandre Antonelli, director of science at RGB Kew.
Put local people at the heart of tree-planting projects
Studies show that getting local communities on board is key to the success of tree-planting projects. It is often local people who have most to gain from looking after the forest in the future.
Maximise biodiversity recovery to meet multiple goals
Reforestation should be about several goals, including guarding against climate change, improving conservation and providing economic and cultural benefits.
Select the right area for reforestation
Plant trees in areas that were historically forested but have become degraded, rather than using other natural habitats such as grasslands or wetlands.
Use natural forest regrowth wherever possible
Letting trees grow back naturally can be cheaper and more efficient than planting trees.
Select the right tree species that can maximise biodiversity
Where tree planting is needed, picking the right trees is crucial. Scientists advise a mixture of tree species naturally found in the local area, including some rare species and trees of economic importance, but avoiding trees that might become invasive.
Make sure the trees are resilient to adapt to a changing climate
Use tree seeds that are suitable for the local climate and how that might change in the future.
Plan how to source seeds or trees, working with local people.
Learn by doing
Combine scientific knowledge with local knowledge. Ideally, small-scale trials should take place before planting large numbers of trees.
Make it pay
The sustainability of tree re-planting rests on a source of income for all stakeholders, including the poorest.
By Shannon Brennan
Twenty-three years ago, a handful of people had a vision for preserving old-growth forests in Virginia. Not that we had many.
When Europeans first came here, the land was thick with old giants, but by the time of the Civil War, nearly the entire state had been clear-cut.
Less than one-half of 1% is truly old growth. Slowly, some larger areas are being allowed to regenerate.
Old-growth forests provide critical habitat for many species, including salamanders, soil invertebrates, small mammals, songbirds and black bears. Standing dead wood is important for many wildlife species.
Gaps in the canopy are a common occurrence in old growth, allowing greater sunlight to reach the forest floor and creating three to five layers of understory, rather than one to two layers in younger forests.
Ted Harris, a former member of the House of Delegates from Lynchburg, was founding president of the 500-Year Forest Foundation and one of six directors of the Virginia Urban Forestry Council who established the foundation.
Since its formation, the foundation has obtained no-cut easements on 10 forests. It requires a minimum of 100 acres of forest and defines old growth as having a significant number of trees at least 70 years old.
The 10th old-growth forest was established earlier this year and is the first to be bequeathed to the foundation. The 140-acre forest in Nelson County is located at the forks of the north and south Tye River and backs up to the Priest Wilderness Area, crossed by the Appalachian Trail.
By Chad Pawson
In what it’s calling a new approach to forest management in B.C., the province says it will protect 353,000 hectares of forest in nine old-growth areas throughout the province from logging.
The promise comes as the Ministry of Forests released a new report entitled A New Future for Old Forests, meant to guide an overhaul of forestry rules.
It’s based on the work of two foresters who travelled the province for months hearing about how B.C.’s massive, old-growth trees should be protected. The term old-growth in B.C. means trees that are generally 250 years or older on the coast and 140 years or older in the Interior.
“For many years, there has been a patchwork approach to how old-growth forests are managed in our province, and this has caused a loss of biodiversity. We need to do better and find a path forward that preserves old-growth forests, while supporting forest workers,” said Doug Donaldson, the minister of forests, lands, natural resource operations and rural development in a news release.
Donaldson said 23 per cent of the forested land base in B.C., some 13.2 million hectares, is made up of old-growth forest.
A majority of the hectares temporarily protected from logging announced on Friday are in Clayoquot Sound on Vancouver Island, an area known for its large trees, biodiversity and confrontations over development.
By Clare Foran
The House voted on Wednesday to approve a sweeping and historic conservation and public lands bill that President Donald Trump has pledged to sign into law.
The measure — the Great American Outdoors Act — has already been passed by the Senate and will now go to the President’s desk for his signature.
The legislation would fully and permanently fund a conservation program known as the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which was set up by Congress in the 1960s and has been chronically underfunded. The measure will require mandatory funding of the program at a level of $900 million annually. Funding for the program does not use taxpayer dollars. Instead it comes from revenues from offshore oil and gas royalty payments.
The legislation would also dedicate funding for backlogged maintenance projects on federal lands run by the National Park Service, the Forest Service and other agencies.
Congressional approval of the legislation represents a rare moment of bipartisan unity on Capitol Hill and comes at a time of national crisis as the country grapples with the devastating toll of the coronavirus pandemic and gears up for contentious negotiations over further relief to address the economic and public health fallout from the spread of the disease.
Congressional Democrats, including Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, have fought for permanent reauthorization and full funding of the LWCF for years, making the passage of the bill a major victory for Democrats.
“The stars aligned correctly this time,” Grijalva said in an interview with CNN ahead of the vote on Wednesday. “This is a popular program, people want it, and I think regardless of party people are responding.”
By Kat Kerlin
CCalifornia’s drought and bark-beetle infestation killed more than 129 million trees between 2012 and 2016 in the Sierra Nevada. But amid the devastation stood some survivors.
At the time, UC Davis biologist Patricia Maloney and a team of researchers entered the forest to collect seeds from 100 surviving sugar pine trees. Alongside other parched sugar pines etched with the tell-tale tunnel marks of bark beetles, were green, healthy trees. The researchers spent the past two years raising 10,000 seedlings from 100 surviving mother trees around the Lake Tahoe Basin. They were first cultivated at the USDA Forest Service’s Placerville Nursery and then moved to the UC Davis Tahoe City Field Station.
This week, between 4,000 and 5,000 of the seedlings are being planted around Lake Tahoe’s North Shore as part of a restoration project funded by the Tahoe Fund and the California Tahoe Conservancy. About 1,500 will be used to study and identify important adaptive traits, and the remainder will be given to private landowners to plant.
f the seedlings turn out to be as genetically resilient as Maloney thinks and hopes they will be, these trees could represent the future forest, one better able to withstand the threats of climate change, including more droughts and bark beetle outbreaks.
“These survivors matter,” said Maloney, a scientist in the UC Davis Department of Plant Pathology and Tahoe Environmental Research Center. “Essentially, these are the offspring of drought survivors. This is hopefully the genetic stock of the future.”
By Peter Fimrite
It is the forgotten killer when compared to our increasingly frequent climate calamities, but the virulent pathogen known as sudden oak death remains active and is spreading death so fast it could destroy California’s coastal forest ecosystem, UC Berkeley scientists reported Thursday.
The deadly microbe has now established itself throughout the Bay Area and has spread along the coast from Monterey to Humboldt County, according to a study of 16,227 trees in 16 counties in Northern California.
Millions of coast live oak and tan oak trees have withered and died over the past quarter century, leaving acres of kindling for wildfires, but the outbreak this year was one of the worst. Oak trees have historically been abundant in California and southwestern Oregon, with hundreds of millions of them stretching all the way to Baja California.
The rate of trees infected almost doubled in 2019 — from 3.5% to 5.9% — and was 10 times higher in some places compared with the 2018 survey, said Matteo Garbelotto, the director of the UC Berkeley Forest Pathology and Mycology Laboratory, which tested leaf samples taken by 422 volunteers.
Infections were found in all the well-known hotbeds, like Marin and Sonoma counties, the East Bay, Big Sur and the Santa Cruz mountains. But the 12th annual survey detected more of the pathogen this year in virtually every location. That’s mainly because the disease spreads faster in the kind of wet weather that hit California last winter, Garbelotto said.
“There was a significant increase in infection rates over last year, but that’s not totally surprising because we had a lot more rainfall,” Garbelotto said. “But it was a surprise to see them all at once. It’s telling us we are entering a different phase of the disease, where the organism isn’t really establishing itself in new areas, but is showing itself more when weather conditions are favorable.”
Sudden oak death is an exotic disease that was discovered in Mill Valley in 1995. It now exists in forests and wildlands in 14 California counties and in Curry County, Ore., just across the state border.
It kills oak trees, including California’s signature tree — the live oak — and there are 107 susceptible host plants, including such common garden ornamentals as camellias and rhododendrons. Although some hosts are sickened, they do not always die from the fungus-like ailment. Instead, these plants, bushes and trees help spread the deadly spores.
They are iconic to Florida, but palm trees offer little shade to urban heat islands and capture very small amounts of carbon, a greenhouse gas contributing to global warming.
South Florida’s palm trees are postcard promises of sighing sea breezes and sandy beaches, but the icon of the tropics may be an impractical adornment in an era of climate change.
From the regal royal palm to the sometimes shabby cabbage, the perennial symbol of the Sunshine State offers little shade to baking urban heat islands and captures minimal amounts of carbon — a greenhouse gas contributing to global warming.
As city officials look for more ways to cool concrete jungles and balance carbon emissions, the priority for new plantings is often broadleaf hardwood trees, not the idyllic palm.
Live oaks can absorb and store 92 pounds of carbon a year with a mature tree’s canopy spanning more than 100 feet. That’s compared to less than one pound of carbon for a royal palm and its compact crown of 15 to 20 fronds.
“People coming from up north or other parts of the country are expecting to see palm trees, so I don’t see them disappearing entirely from the landscape,” said Charles Marcus, a certified arborist who wrote an urban tree management plan for West Palm Beach. “But it would benefit most communities if they increased the percentage of hardwoods and I think it’s something cities will have to consider.”
Palms aren’t even an option at City of West Palm Beach community tree giveaways, and a 2018 city ordinance puts an emphasis on using more shade trees in new construction, especially parking lots where 75 percent of the required trees must now be shade trees.
“We’re not trying to seek out and replace palm trees with canopy trees, but we are looking at if we have to do a replacement, would a canopy tree fit,” said Penni Redford, resilience and climate change manager for West Palm Beach.
Three years of studies in cities including Baltimore, Richmond, Va., and Washington by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that areas covered in concrete with few trees could be 17 degrees warmer than shaded areas.
The same study conducted in West Palm Beach this past August found a heat-index temperature of 122 degrees near downtown, compared to 92 degrees taken during the same time period near the wetlands area of Grassy Waters Preserve.
“These are samples taken in one time period and one day out of the year, but given the conditions, the difference is staggering,” said Michael Rittehouse, sustainability project coordinator for West Palm Beach.
By Laura Lundquist
Federal and state leaders laud not only the ability of Montanans to hash out tough issues but also the way collaboration has gotten several timber projects into production.
That was evident from the speeches of Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney and Jim Hubbard, U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary, who kicked off the Montana Forest Collaboration Network’s annual two-day workshop in Missoula.
The two men praised the efforts of Montana’s collaborative groups, represented by the 120 participants in the audience, that have put many hours into finding agreement on which forest tracts have “the right acres in the right places” to sustain commercial timber projects.
“In an age where political polarization often threatens the progress of important policy, you all quietly keep coming back to the table, year after year,” Cooney said. “You find sensible paths forward by engaging diverse local perspectives, treating one another like neighbors in advancing plans that ultimately can achieve durable returns for our forests and our communities.”
Cooney said that kind of cooperation was one reason Gov. Steve Bullock was able to make Montana the first state to sign a stewardship agreement with the U.S. Forest Service, allowing the state to negotiate with federal, tribal and private partners to thin trees or use prescribed burns regardless of who manages the area. Thus, foresters can focus on any region that might be important for reducing wildfire risk near communities. Yet, only seven other states have signed shared stewardship agreements.
Hubbard said being able to work across multiple jurisdictions is necessary to do work at a large enough scale to be effective at slowing a potential wildfire. But when it comes to wildfire, thinning projects go only so far.
“There’s no way in the world we’re going to protect all the communities that are at risk of fire in the West. There’s no way in the world we’re going to treat all the acres that need treatment. So which ones are we going to go for? That’s the shared priority, to decide what we want to do together,” Hubbard said. “Also, the community has to be engaged, because if the community isn’t paying attention, all that land treatment is not necessarily going to reduce their risk very much.”
Bullock was also among the first to sign a Good Neighbor agreement. The 2014 Farm Bill created the Good Neighbor Authority to allow states to log timber on federal land adjacent to state or private land undergoing thinning operations. The 2018 Farm Bill broadened that authority.