Over the past few decades, our efforts towards reforestation have finally started to pay off – in the United States, at least. In the US, we annually replant about 40% more trees than we harvest. However, the world at large still loses about 10 billion trees per year. That means, in only 300 years, we’ll be completely out of trees. Even though we’re moving in the right direction, more still needs to be done, or our children’s children won’t be able to see the Earth as we do today. So, what things do we need to do to preserve the Earth’s forests – and by extension, its ecosystems, climate, and natural beauty – for subsequent generations, if what we’re doing now just isn’t enough?
Not all forests are created equal. For example, the Bonn Challenge, a global reforestation initiative launched in 2011, has been joined by countries the world over. These countries, as part of the challenge, pledge to return some of their lands to the trees. However, the way that they’re pledging to do this is not enough. The Bonn Challenge only specifies planting trees, not how or what kinds should be planted, and this creates a difficult issue: some countries are counting tree plantations or agroforestry operations among their pledges. However, natural, bio-diverse forests are the ones that do the most carbon fixation on our planet. Tree plantations and agroforestry operations don’t come close to the carbon fixation potential of a natural forest.
It feels a bit like cheating, doesn’t it? These insufficient pledges imply that the trees we’re replanting won’t have nearly as good an effect on the environment as projections might suggest. Sure, we’ll have a few more trees, but we won’t have any additional forests from these plans.
Biodiversity Is Key
The makeup of the forest matters just as much as how the forest itself is planted. Across the world, countries have learned from efforts to replant cleared forests as monoculture forests, which are essentially tree plantations. A monoculture forest is usually made up of long rows of trees, all of the same type, that is fast-growing and quickly harvestable. However, these forests are not true replacements for natural-growth forests. Because of the lack of diversity, they don’t support the species that used to live there, and their method of planting very close together often prevents ground-level plants from receiving any sunlight. Japan's Nishiawakura region, for example, is full of these forests, and they’re eerily silent and devoid of life.
It's clear that planting more trees isn't the only solution to the problem that is plaguing our planet. Giving attention to the type of trees that we plant and focusing on biodiversity may be the keys to a successful global reforestation and the survival of the next generations.