Planting trees restores blighted, abused land
Trees are older than humans. They know how to survive — if we let them. When Mother Nature and humans work together, deforested areas can regain their former beauty, fertility, and life-generating harmony.
In deforested areas, humans are the destructive force that ripped away trees in favor of profits. But humans are also the redeeming force that can bring back the trees and allow them to re-establish a balanced habitat, attracting multiple life forms that thrive in and around forests.
Reforestation happens in two ways: active and regenerative.
Active reforestation is planting new trees on formerly deforested soil. As the name implies, this method spurs faster forest renewal by introducing young saplings to the depleted land where—because of lack of competition from other plant species—they can grow quickly . Active reforestation requires active financing to enable tree planting on a big enough scale to repopulate the forest.
Regenerative reforestation (also called succession reforestation) is the method by which a protected and nurtured forest brings back its former species over time. Native saplings emerge organically as the soil is allowed to re-create its ecological harmony. In contrast to active reforestation, regenerative methods require time and investment to protect delicate new saplings from wildlife (those pesky deer!) and infestations.
Abandoned mines need not remain forever void of life, creating both a toxic eyesore and property devaluation. Since the 1970’s, mine reclamation — restoring the land to a thriving habitat after the mine has closed and is no longer productive — has to be part of any new mining project. Today, over 100 countries require reclamation plans as part of the environmental impact assessment for a new mine.
With dedicated planning, preparing, planting, and protecting, the once bare and toxic land can be restored. Mining reclamation projects like the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative combine the skills and energy of the community with various agencies to bring back life to the decimated area. According to the Initiative, “…highly productive forestland can be created on reclaimed mine land by using a five step Forestry Reclamation Approach (FRA).”
After creating a growing medium, preparing the soil, and planting ground cover, the FRA plants two types of trees: a fast-growing species that helps anchor the soil and brings wildlife back to the area, and a second species that is commercially valuable. Mine reclamation projects offer employment to workers formerly employed by the mine, increases property values, restores watersheds, offers recreational space, and increases ecological health.
From the US to Chile to China to Zimbabwe, mine reclamation projects convert previously deforested mines to areas that benefit the community and global health.
According to UNESCO’s Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems (EOLSS), “Reclaimed land areas, in particular irrigated land, comprise about 10–15% of the ploughed areas of the Earth.” Then it adds, “…in order to supply the growing population with food, a constant input of newly reclaimed land is required…”
Reforested agricultural land, when done correctly, can improve biodiversity which lessens susceptibility of the forest to invasion of destructive species while pumping up its ability to withstand climate change effects. “Reclaiming degraded land, combating soil loss, and restoring vegetation through reforestation can help mitigate the effects of greenhouse gas emissions.”
Vietnam transformed agricultural land once held in large collective farms into smaller, privately-owned parcels. Since the 1900s it has focused agriculture on smaller areas of rich soil while reforesting more and more of the previously farmed land.
The power of one person’s decisions can have a lifetime effect on the global environment. Phil Viereck was a visionary back in 1954 when he bought acres of farmland in Shaftsbury, Vermont. Instead of farming, Phil began planting trees — fifty of them. Over the next fifty years, he planted 9,000.
Decimating large areas of forests to provide logs for fuel and lumber is big business — and one of the biggest culprits contributing to climate change. It’s also been the focus of global conferences searching for solutions to rising global temperatures.
But across the globe, countries have begun to treasure their land and reclaim their forests for carbon emission credits, like in Kenya, or create alliances between community groups and government agencies, like in India.
Every country takes its unique approach to promoting reforestation of lands formerly considered valuable only for the timber products they produced.
Trees and the ecology they promote, the renewed health they create, and the increased hope they bring are the main players in success stories in countries as diverse as South Korea, Tanzania, Mexico, and Columbia.
The scientific community reached a broad consensus on many aspects of the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, including management of ecosystems. Future progress will come from “increasing and integrating knowledge about biotic and abiotic controls on ecosystem properties, how ecological communities are structured, and the forces driving species extinctions and invasions.”
But we must strengthen links to policy and management, combining our ecological knowledge with understanding of the social and economic issues of responsible management practices.
When we look at what our planet’s future can be by looking at what’s already being done, the vision of a greened planet full of trees capturing CO2, lowering the Earth’s temperature, and emitting life-giving oxygen seems closer and more attainable than ever before.
What if we measured wealth by the number of trees we planted?
Increase your riches, plant a tree today!