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 Janet McConnaughey
When European settlers came to North America, fire-dependent savannas anchored by lofty pines with footlong needles covered much of what became the southern United States.
Yet by the 1990s, logging and clear-cutting for farms and development had all but eliminated longleaf pines and the grasslands beneath where hundreds of plant and animal species flourished.
Now, thanks to a pair of modern-day Johnny Appleseeds, landowners, government agencies and nonprofits are working to bring back pines named for the long needles prized by Native Americans for weaving baskets. The trees’ natural range spans the coastal plain, nine states from eastern Texas to southeast Virginia and extending into northern and central Florida.
Longleaf pines now cover as much as 7,300 square miles — and more than one-quarter of that has been planted since 2010.
“I like to say we rescued longleaf from the dustbin. I don’t think we had any idea how successful we’d be,” said Rhett Johnson, who founded The Longleaf Alliance in 1995 with another Auburn University forestry professor.
That’s not to say that the tall, straight and widely spaced pines will ever gain anything near their once vast extent. But their reach is, after centuries, expanding rather than contracting.
Scientists estimate that longleaf savannas once covered up to 143,750 square miles, an area bigger than Germany. By the 1990s, less than 3 percent remained in scattered patches. Most are in areas too wet or dry to farm.
Fire suppression played a critical role on the longleaf’s decline. Fires clear and fertilize ground that longleaf seeds must touch to sprout. Properly timed, they also spark seedlings’ first growth spurt. And, crucially for the entire ecosystem, they kill shrubs and hardwood trees that would otherwise block the sun from seedlings, grasses and wildflowers.
“The diversity of the longleaf pine system is below our knees,” sad Keith Coursey, silviculturist for about 70 percent of the 529,000-acre DeSoto National Forest in south Mississippi.
Of the 1,600 plant species found only in the Southeast, nearly 900 are only in longleaf forests, including species that trap bugs as well as fire-adapted grasses and wildflowers.
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.”
The Nature Conservancy has begun using a drone to aid its reforestation efforts in northeast Minnesota.
By Cody Nelson and Jiwon Choi
To understand the health of a forest, conservation workers typically hit the ground and survey the land acre by acre.
It can involve trudging through the woods with hiking boots or snowshoes, looking for gaps in the forest canopy that need restoring.
But this summer, the Nature Conservancy’s Minnesota branch found an easier way to survey the large swaths of forest that comprise some of the over 60,000 acres it manages in the state.
The conservancy began using a drone to aid its reforestation efforts in northeast Minnesota. It has helped in several ways from making highly detailed maps to providing flyover video in key areas.
“It’s almost like another staff member,” said Chris Dunham, the nonprofit’s forestry manager. “We’re a small, small forest team here and we can use every advantage we can get.”
While the forest may look quite thick from the bird’s-eye view, the vantage point can be misleading. The nonprofit has estimated hundreds of thousands of acres of North Shore forest is in need of some help.
One of the Nature Conservancy’s focuses in Minnesota is on restoring riparian gaps — or places along rivers and streams in the forest where trees have died or been cut down.
Restoring these gaps is good for preventing erosion into the river, sequestering more carbon in the forest and creating better wildlife habitat.
There’s still ground-truthing to do once the drone footage in hand, Dunham said, “but you can be way more efficient if you’ve already taken a cruise above the trees and know where you’re headed.”
By Lee Shearer
ATHENS, Ga. — Climate change gets the most attention nowadays when it comes to human-caused environmental destruction, but it’s only one of the ways humans are shredding ecological webs of life.
One that’s under-reported is the growing spread of foreign plants like privet, a nondescript Asian shrub a U.S. Forest Service scientist once compared to an atomic bomb in its ability to obliterate everything around it.
Used for more than a century as a landscaping plant — the Sanford Stadium hedge is one — seven species of privet have now made their way into more than 600,000 acres of Georgia forest and countless urban and rural yards.
Other plants, mainly from China and other Asian countries, have also reached millions of acres in Georgia in a kind of slow-motion life-and-death struggle playing out in various scenarios not just in Georgia but across the world.
They get here and spread in various ways. Many brought here for planting because they’re pretty. Privet and dozens of other invasive exotic plants are a big and under-rated factor in why scientists are seeing steep declines in insect numbers and bird numbers in Georgia and elsewhere, says Georgia Department of Natural Resources botanist and ecologist Mincy Moffett.
“Invasive exotics is about extinction,” he said.
“We’re losing the Southern forest,” said Athens-Clarke County Ecological Resource Manager Mike Wharton.
When Wharton says forest, he’s not just talking about trees, but all the life in a forest — the birds that nest in the trees, the rabbits and voles beneath, the bugs or greenery they eat, even the soil micorganisms and worms.
As privet grows up in thickets, nothing can grow beneath it, and even the soil acidity is changed.
Forest researchers have found that the changed soil is more hospitable for invasive species of worms whose appetites accelerate litter composition and make soil harder, increasing stormwater runoff, Wharton explained.
Humans have been moving plants and animals around thousands of years, but the pressure on natural systems today from invading plants — privet, Japanese honeysuckle, English ivy and many more — is unprecedented, said Karan Rawlins, invasive species coordinator at the University of Georgia’s Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health.
“People have always mixed things up, but in modern times it has sped up, more than a natural system can adapt to,” she said.
No one expects to be able to roll back the invasion, but state land managers, among others, are working to protect and restore what they can. Many landscapes still remain relatively untouched by non-native invasion.
Locally, the State Botanical Garden has been rolling back the exotic plants infesting its forests, and a volunteer group called the Weed Warriors saw native plants return to Athens’ Memorial Park as they worked over years to eradicate the park’s heavy load of privet, ivy and other exotics.
As Athens-Clarke’s Wharton spoke this summer, he watched a small army of volunteers from Athens’ Pilgrims Pride poultry processing plant toil for days in July heat removing privet and other invasive plants from a stretch of the North Oconee River near downtown Athens, giving a head start of years on what Wharton hopes will be a much larger restoration along the river.
When native plants return to the area, re-emerging or seeded with a recipe created by State Botanical Garden of Georgia conservationist Linda Chafin, the stretch will be a seed bank for native plantings elsewhere as Athens-Clarke land managers reclaim more exotic-occupied territory, Wharton said.
“As we pull it back, we’re going to see how beautiful this area is,” Wharton said.
Forest ecologists like Rawlins also hope state lawmakers can be convinced of how serious a threat invasive exotic plants really are.
Georgia is one of just four states that don’t have a noxious weed law that could reduce the sale and use of foreign plants known to be invasion threats.
By Victoria Harker
The United States Forest Service took the first step to issue one of the largest RFPs in the history of the agency to attract industry to Arizona to clear out Arizona forests to reduce damage when wildfires erupt.
In the contract is a call for much-needed biomass industries to remove and burn the massive amount of debris here, said Jeremy Kruger, chief executive of the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI) for the Forest Service.
“We have a biomass bottleneck,” Kruger said. “Viable biomass utilization is currently the biggest obstacle to accelerating the pace of mechanical forest restoration treatments.”
With the longest contiguous pine forest in the world, northern Arizona is a prime location for reforestation industries as well as facilities that can burn woody forest debris – biomass – and transform it into energy for the electric grid.
Currently, there is only one biomass facility in the state, NovoBio in Snowflake.
Attracting industry has been the biggest challenge. A policy approved by the Arizona Corporation Commission last year also is designed as a shout out to attract biomass plants to the state.
Forest Service to spend $550 million over 20 years
Kruger said the first step of the RFP, a presolicitation notice, was issued July 10 to alert qualified vendors.
The Forest Service plans to spend $550 million over the next 20 years on reforestation. Business and industry will play a key role in this effort by harvesting, processing, and selling wood products.
The RFP calls for awarding contracts to companies to mechanically thin 605,000 to 818,000 acres of forests in Northern Arizona. The RFP will be available to both small and large businesses and seeks proposals that are “sustainable, innovative, feasible, and cost-effective to increase the pace of the scale of forest restoration.”
By Peter Coutu
Integral to Virginia’s history, the pine once dominated most of the region.
For decades, though, the longleaf has been struggling to survive in an environment no longer suited for it. The pine, which thrives under regular burn cycles, stopped getting the necessary fire treatment when earlier residents started extinguishing the blazes that would have killed off competition. And timber companies harvested the longleaf until the tree largely vanished.
At the turn of the century, fewer than 200 such mature conifers remained in Virginia.
In turn, the population of red-cockaded woodpeckers plummeted with the loss of that habitat. Now federally endangered, one could just about count the remaining birds in the state on two hands.
But a group of conservationists from multiple agencies are on a mission to save the state’s so-called “Founding Forest” and with it, the state’s most scarce bird.
By Lucy Sherriff
The native ʻōhiʻa is sacred to Hawaiians as a cultural touchstone and ecological underpinning for the state’s lush forests and abundant wildlife.
HONOLULU — A deadly fungus threatens one of Hawaii’s most beloved and important species, the ʻōhiʻa tree, and those believed responsible for introducing the threat to the tree in the first place are now being asked to help save it — tourists.
The native ʻōhiʻa is sacred to Hawaiians as a cultural touchstone and ecological underpinning for the state’s lush forests and abundant wildlife. The flowering evergreens that can tower to 85 feet comprise 80 percent of the state’s canopy, covering 1 million acres, and its nectar sustains birds and insects found nowhere else on Earth.
Now, public agencies and private citizens are trying to avoid biological and economic catastrophe by proclaiming war against a deadly fungal disease coined “rapid ʻōhiʻa death,” or ROD, that is swiftly destroying the trees. What’s more, invasive species like the miconia tree, native to North and South America and called the “green cancer” of Hawaii’s forests, are choking out the ʻōhiʻa.
The federal government has attempted to stop the fungus and tackle invasive species by imposing a quarantine on Hawaii Island and carrying out extensive tests to learn how the fungus spreads, but it has yet to find a solution. Hawaiian organizations, communities and scientists are now stepping in.
Gunstock Ranch, a horse riding stable and tourist destination on Oahu, is replanting native trees, although not the ʻōhi‘a yet. After conducting a survey on 80 acres of its land in 2016, and finding just two native species, owner Greg Smith established a Hawaiian “legacy forest,” where visitors can plant trees and monitor their growth online.
“Our hope is that as our guests plant and dedicate a tree they will form a new connection to the land and Hawaii and leave knowing that they made a difference,” Smith said.
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 Steve Baragona
ELKINS, WEST VIRGINIA —
Mist rises from the ripped-up and muddy earth as moist soil meets chilly morning air. This field deep within in West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest looks more like a Game of Thrones battleground than a woodlands restoration project.
This is how Chris Barton is bringing forests back to Appalachia’s old strip mines: with a bulldozer tearing up the soil with meter-long metal teeth.
“We’ve had a lot of people kind of look at us twice,” he laughed.
Barton is a forest scientist at the University of Kentucky. On these former mines, he’s found that before he can plant a forest, he has to ravage a field.
“The really interesting thing is, after we do it, there’s no question that that was the right thing to do,” he said.
More on that later. First, Barton’s work lies at a crossroads for Appalachia, and for much of the world.
Not rocket science
Coal mines have stripped away roughly 400,000 hectares of Appalachian forests.
Burning coal for energy is adding more and more planet-warming carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. As the planet heats up, experts warn that simply cutting greenhouse gas emissions won’t be enough to prevent potentially catastrophic levels of global warming. CO2 must also be removed from the atmosphere.
Currently, experimental machines that pull CO2 directly from the air are too expensive to be practical.
However, a new report from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine says effective carbon-removal technology already exists.
It’s not rocket science. It’s forests.
The report says planting trees and managing forests, along with carbon-absorbing farming and ranching practices, are among the most cost-effective strategies that are ready for large-scale use today.
Taking advantage of these natural systems could take care of more than a third of the greenhouse gas reductions needed to prevent devastating climate change, according to another recent study.