Daimen Hardie Community Forests International
Daimen Hardie is the executive director of Community Forests International, alongside designing climate action strategies for the EU. «Tree planting is this thing that we do to give back to the world. It has got charisma and everybody can get behind it. The process of bringing a forest back is an intergenerational process. These forests take decades, if not hundreds of years to be restored. Planting the tree is one of the first steps» says Hardie.
If tree planting is not supported by protection and care, forests can do more harm to the climate than good. Hardie’s home country of Canada is a prime example of forest potential, but also the drawbacks of poorly managed or unprotected forest areas. «Canada has huge forests and a forestry industry, and the potential for Canada’s forests to be this global carbon storehouse are vast», says Hardie, «But under business-as-usual that is not the case».
Canada has the second-largest forested area by country on Earth, but reports show that Canadian forest lands are making climate change worse. Trees store carbon, but as soon as they are cut or burned, that carbon returns to the atmosphere. A combination of forest fires, insect infestations, and natural disturbances has caused Canada’s forests to emit more carbon than they sequester. In 2016, Canada’s managed forests emitted 78 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.
In 2016, wildfires in the community of Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada damaged or destroyed over 4,000 homes and caused 88,000 people to evacuate. Upon investigation into the fire, scientists linked back to drainage of the area’s peatlands for tree plantations in the 1970s. The combination of dried peatland with plantations of spruce trees caused forest fires that were not considered extinguished for over 400 days. Vast amounts of carbon were dumped into the atmosphere, which could have been prevented if the 40-year-old plantations were managed more carefully. Water drainage and risk of forest fires must be considered for the long-term health of forests and their ecosystems. «Humans are one of the biggest forces on the planet, and we need to take responsibility for responding to natural disasters and for protecting our forests against those disasters», says Hardie.
Clearcutting for the logging industry is another factor in carbon release into the atmosphere. It is cheaper and easier to cut down whole areas of land, but that kills off wildlife habitats and threatens balanced ecosystems. «In Canada, we have managed our forests like farms», says Hardie, «making our decisions based on shorter-term profits or shorter-term fiber output, and we have not been managing them for climate security or carbon drawdown». But there are methods where forests can be logged and remain healthy. Hardie emphasizes that these alternatives to clearcutting can contribute to carbon drawdown, through «harvesting in a way that lets a diverse species come back and thrive». This kind of intervention can increase carbon storage in a forest.
Land ownership and legal rights are also part of the protection and restoration equation, both in Canada and around the world. «It is valuable to protect forests in the long run. We must control the land that we plant on», says Felix Finkbeiner, founder of Plant-for-the-Planet. In Canada, Community Forests International purchases and protects land through a carbon offsetting scheme. With donations from companies hoping to lessen their climate impact, Community Forests International buys and manages areas of endangered Acadian forest in the Canadian Maritimes. «We have protected over 1,000 acres of old Acadian forest, which is this special type of endangered forest in the Maritimes, through partnerships with companies