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 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 Theresa Davis
BANDELIER NATIONAL MONUMENT – Pinecones hang from tree branches and scatter the forest floor near Los Alamos. At first glance, they are nothing special. But inside those cones are seeds that can help bring a forest back to life.
This year, ponderosa pine trees in New Mexico are producing more pinecones than they will for the next 10 to 15 years – an event scientists call a “mast seeding.”
The Nature Conservancy, Santa Clara Pueblo, the National Parks Service, the Institute for Applied Ecology, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and Highlands University are collecting the abundant seeds to plant in areas that have burned in severe wildfires.
The groups set a goal of gathering 1 million seeds in New Mexico and Colorado this fall, according to Sarah Hurteau, urban conservation director for the Nature Conservancy.
“Mast seeding is an evolutionary process,” she said. “In these years, trees will produce enough seeds that animals can’t eat them all, so more seeds get the chance to germinate.”
Last winter’s above-average precipitation helped make this year ideal for a mast seeding. Ponderosa pines currently have more viable seeds per cone, which means the groups get a better selection of potential trees for reforestation.
Wildfire is a natural part of the life cycle in northern New Mexico forests. Many trees need fire to germinate. But the size and severity of recent forest fires is unusual, said Kay Beeley, a natural resource manager with the National Park Service. She referenced the forest damage done by Los Conchas Fire in 2011. The blaze consumed 156,000 acres and burned for more than a month in northern New Mexico.
By Christina Larson
Destruction of the forests can be swift. Regrowth is much, much slower.But around the world, people are putting shovels to ground to help it happen.
They labor amid spectacular recent losses — the Amazon jungle and the Congo basin ablaze, smoke from Indonesian rainforests wafting over Malaysia and Singapore, fires set mostly to make way for cattle pastures and farm fields. Between 2014 and 2018, a new report says, an area the size of the United Kingdom was stripped of forest each year.
Rebuilding woodland is slow and often difficult work. And it requires patience: It can take several decades or longer for forests to regrow as viable habitats, and to absorb the same amount of carbon lost when trees are cut and burned.
And yet, there is urgency to that work — forests are one of the planet’s first lines of defense against climate change, absorbing as much as a quarter of man-made carbon emissions each year.
The impact could be great: A recent study in the journal Science projected that if 0.9 billion hectares (2.2 billion acres) of new trees were planted — around 500 billion saplings— they could absorb 205 gigatonnes (220 gigatons) of carbon once they reached maturity. The Swiss researchers estimated this would be equivalent to about two-thirds of man-made carbon emissions since the start of the Industrial Revolution.
Other scientists dispute those calculations, while some fear the theoretical promise of tree-planting as an easy solution to climate changes could distract people from the range and scope of the responses needed.
But all agree that trees matter. And in many places around the world, people are working to revive them:
Lush and green ancient forest is not what most people imagine when thinking of Russia. But despite living a fast-paced city life, Marianna Muntianu knew the reality all too well.
It was visiting her grandmother that she discovered tall emerald alpine forests with thick canopies, home to abundant mushrooms and berries which they would pick together.
“I saw how beautiful and diverse nature was. Then one very hot year, there were terrible wildfires blazing all over Russia. Smoke covered cities, and people walked the streets wearing masks. The picture was so eerie, and I was devastated that we were losing this beautiful natural heritage.”
The forest fires have not stopped. This year alone, a spate of Siberian wildfires which began in July have since covered 2.6 million hectares, according to the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) satellite imagery and local forestry services.
When she realized that these spaces were not being reforested, Muntianu joined an environmental organization headed in the Kostroma region which straddles the banks of the Volga river, the longest in Europe.
“I discovered a love for tree-planting, for being something of a creator,” she said. “I worked to establish school nurseries, giving lessons on forest reforestation. We planted seedlings in areas of the country badly in need of reforestation. In three years, we planted 330,000 trees.”
But it became obvious to Muntianu that reforestation efforts alone are not enough to combat deforestation. That’s when Muntianu started exploring the idea of virtual reality.
“There are around 1.3 billion people around the world who play computer games—roughly 18 per cent of the global population. Not only is this technology highly relevant, the scope of impact with virtual reality is huge.
“I started thinking about how we can use modern technology to build, not destroy. I started exploring the idea of creating games to benefit both players and our planet.”
Another advantage of gaming is to bring people in cities closer to the realities of environmental destruction which may be happening elsewhere, in remote areas of the country, explained Muntianu.
“Many people live so far away from forests and are not sure how to help, with little free time. I explored more interactive games, then the mobile game ‘Plant the Forest’ was born.”
The educational mobile game combines the virtual world with reality. Players grow their own virtual forest, complete with insects, animals and birds, and in parallel, new forests are planted by volunteers.
Users learn what needs to be done to encourage animals to appear and how to restore the environment step by step. Forestry staff advise which trees to plant where, and provide aftercare.
In warm regions, deciduous species such as oak, poplar and maple are planted. In Siberia, coniferous species like spruce, pine and cedar are grown. Disaster and pest and disease-resilient varieties are also chosen.
Today, more than 4,000 people and 10 companies have planted over 400,000 trees in 17 regions of Russia through ‘Plant the Forest.’
By Al Parker
It might seem out of place, and it certainly lives under the radar of tourists and locals alike, but Grayling’s W.J. Beal Tree Plantation might be the oldest documented experimental tree plantation in North America.
Situated inside the city’s industrial park and surrounded by the daily bustle of commerce, this placid, historic green space, on many days, is seen only by delivery truck drivers and workers who rumble along Industrial Park Road, unaware of the significance of the towering pine trees they pass.
“This site might be the only one in the country where reforestation has been so well documented and preserved over more than 100 years,” wrote Frank Telewski, a Michigan State University professor of plant biology, at the site’s dedication in 1997.
Once 80 acres, the site is now only about 5 acres, but it’s filled with towering pine trees that stand as testament to the foresight of William James Beal, a bearded, burly, and bold visionary who taught botany and horticulture at the Michigan Agricultural College (MAC), now Michigan State University, from 1871 to 1910. A pioneer of what came to be called “The New Botany,” Beal extolled independent learning through observation.
“In the 1800s we did not know how to grow and plant trees,” said Susan Thiel, a now-retired Department of Natural Resources Forest Manager who managed the Beal Tree Plantation. “Professor Beal did vast experimentation across several different sites to learn how to collect seed, plant and germinate it, and grow trees of different varieties. This site helped develop the science of growing and regenerating trees and reforesting sites as we know it today.”
Beal’s Grayling Agricultural Experiment Station offered unique promise: Its 80 acres came courtesy of the Michigan Central Railroad Company, which had donated the “wild land” to MAC — land that had been cut and exposed to fire, which left a scattering of random jack pines and oak root sprouts. The Grayling location became the “base substation,” wrote Beal “because the area’s climate and conditions would represent the average — neither the best nor the poorest of the sterile land.”
Moving quickly, Beal supervised the cleaning and preparation of the ground. A barbed wire-and-board fence was built to keep cattle and animals away, while a 5-foot strip of ground was plowed along both sides of the fence to deter fires from entering the property.
By May of 1888, Beal had directed the planting of 2,145 seedlings, which came from W.W. Johnson of Antrim County. The seeds were planted in 14 rows, each row precisely four feet apart. Along the north side and south sides, 20 acres each were designated for agricultural experiments.
Beal would not have long to watch his seedling and saplings grow; in 1891, Beal was relieved of his work at the plantation and was replaced the following year by Dr. O. Palmer.
In 1997, an inventory was taken; it showed that of the 41 species started as seedlings or seeds in 1888 and 1889, no hardwoods survived. But original stems from seven of nine conifers endured, mostly red pine and white pine. They stand there still today, silently and majestically greeting visitors to the Beal Tree Plantation.
The plantation is open to the public, free to enter, and features a handicap-accessible path for visitors to explore. There are a few weathered signs that offer information, a couple of benches along the needle-strewn path, and limited parking. Find a map at www.michigan.org/property/wj-beal-tree-plantation.
By Evan Nicole Brown
ON JUNE 22, 2013, PAKISTAN’S Sindh Forest Department set a Guinness World Record when 300 people planted 847,275 trees in 24 hours. Three years later, on July 11, 2016, India eclipsed that mark, planting 49.3 million tree saplings (comprising 80 different species) in the same amount of time.
But yesterday, the arboreal record was shattered again—in half the time. A nationwide planting spree in Ethiopia saw volunteers plant more than 350 million trees across 1,000 designated sites—in just 12 hours.
This latest eco-challenge was designed as part of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s “Green Legacy Initiative,” a reforestation plan to address Ethiopia’s rapid tree loss. At the start of the 20th century, 30 percent of the country’s land was forested. Now, less than 4 percent of it is.
Ethiopia is not alone when it comes to tree loss. In 2015, 10 African countries launched the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative, which aims to restore 386,000 square miles of the continent’s land by 2030.
The benefits are legion.
“Restoring our landscapes brings prosperity, security, and opportunity,” Vincent Biruta, Rwanda’s minister of natural resources, said at the time. “With forest landscape restoration, we’ve seen agricultural yields rise and farmers in our rural communities diversify their livelihoods and improve their well-being. Forest landscape restoration is not just an environmental strategy; it is an economic and social development strategy as well.”
As part of this effort, Ethiopia pledged to tackle 57,915 square miles of its landscape. On July 29, Prime Minister Ahmed encouraged millions of Ethiopians to each plant a minimum of 40 seedlings. The citizenry took him very seriously. Some schools and government offices closed to encourage full participation.
By Andy Kubis
The relatively new technique counters what had been traditional practice. But, one forester said, “It’s more natural — the way it was supposed to be, the way it was before mining.”
Deep in the Moshannon State Forest in Elk County, there’s a sloped, barren patch of land surrounded by an otherwise healthy forest. It looks as if a tornado has torn through here — the earth has been churned up, with tangled roots and jumbled rocks.
In the late 1800s, this area was deep-mined. Later, it was strip-mined. When the coal companies left in the mid-1990s, the land was abandoned. Then about twelve years ago, the site was reclaimed. Trees were planted, but didn’t take, as often happens on reclaimed minelands.
“The technology back then was to just re-contour the land,” explains John Hecker, a forester for the state who manages this track of land. “But the bulldozers, as they ran over the land, they compacted the soil. Trees don’t do very well on compacted soil. This site is a good example of that.”
What few trees are here are extremely stunted and thin. But now this — and hundreds of acres of formerly mined land in Pennsylvania — are getting an ecological do-over. ‘Reclamation 2.0,’ you could call it.
That’s why the ground is ripped apart. A jumbo-sized bulldozer with a 3-foot blade came through here earlier in the year and criss crossed the area with deep furrows. As the dozer went through, it blended the materials together to make what looks like very healthy soil: a lot of shale, pre-mined and native soils and sandstone.
“Now the tree roots [can] grow down into that loose soil where it’s moist,” Hecker said. “Those trees will really grow well.”
This aggressive form of bulldozing is a relatively new technique; it’s only been used for the last 10 years or so. It’s called the Forestry Reclamation Approach.
By Thomas Barrett
The first tree has been planted in a new ‘Northern Forest’ that will connect five community forests across the north of England.
Over the next 25 years, the Woodland Trust and Community Forest Trust are aiming to plant more than 50 million trees from Liverpool to Hull, connecting the Mersey Forest, Manchester City of Trees, South Yorkshire Community Forest, the Leeds White Rose Forest and the HEYwoods Project.
Spanning more than 120 miles, the Northern Forest will help boost habitats for woodland birds and bats and protect iconic species such as the red squirrel, alongside providing a tranquil space to be enjoyed by millions of people living in the area.
Forestry minister David Rutley joined the Woodland Trust, Community Forest Trust, government Tree Champion Sir William Worsley and students from St Andrew’s CE Primary School in Radcliffe, where they began the planting of 200 saplings as part of the government’s £5.7m investment.
Tree planting rates are dramatically low with tree planting in 2016 being only 700 hectares against the Government’s target of 5,000 hectares a year.
Woodland cover across the north is at just 7.6%, below the UK average of 13% and far below the EU average of 44%.
Forestry Minister David Rutley said: ‘It is a privilege to be here to see the Northern Forest take root, and to plant the first of many government-funded trees which will contribute to what will one day be a great forest.
By Josephine Marcotty
As Minnesota’s ash trees fall to the invasion of emerald ash borer in the next decade, the forest that borders the 72-mile stretch of the Mississippi River in the Twin Cities metro area is expected to lose one-fifth of its canopy.
Turns out that’s not all bad.
Conservation groups that work in the 54,000-acre Mississippi National River and Recreation Area are using that environmental disaster to thwart a much larger one on the way — climate change.
By replacing ash with other kinds of trees, as well as bushes and other plants, they hope to establish a forest that is more likely to thrive in a future of higher average temperatures and much more erratic precipitation.