The second largest forest in the world – planting trees isn’t a golden ticket
that want to demonstrate leadership on climate, and on social responsibility», says Hardie.
They then pursue conservation easements; legal deeds that ensure the land is protected from clearcutting or other damaging practices in the long-term.
In cities, individual tree planting needs forethought. Risk of damage from construction, vandalism, air pollution, and poor maintenance create a higher than average mortality rate for urban trees. For city trees to survive their environments, they must be planted with root space for the mature tree. When roots outgrow their given space in paved areas, they damage infrastructure and are at risk of harm. During a tree’s lifetime, it could be disturbed by digging for cabling or plumbing. Underground damage often results in the tree dying, sometimes a year after the injury. It is hard to link tree death to the cause, so future-proofing in the form of spacing and legal protections are important to ensure the plant’s longevity.
Aftercare is also important in city tree-planting schemes. A report in Scenario Journal on urban tree planting revealed that in New York and Sacramento, over a quarter of trees from planting programs had died within the first five to nine years due to poor care. This not only represents carbon release, but also a financial loss for the governments that invested in the programs.
The tree planter’s maxim is the right tree in the right place. Consideration of the type of tree and where it is going will aid the long-term health and protection of urban and rural forests. In the north of Ireland, industrial-level planting of non-native Sitka spruce trees has reduced biodiversity. The evergreens have grown tall and wide, choking out light to native tree species and eliminating food sources for other wildlife. When individual tree species are over-planted in urban areas, the trees are at risk of pests and diseases such as the emerald ash borer, and amounts of canopy cover can be lost.
An alternative way to protect trees is by not planting at all — clearing the land, ensuring it is protected, and getting out of the way to allow for regeneration. This works particularly well in tropical areas such as the Amazon, and areas bordering existing forests where an array of plants will be seeded naturally. Trees that grow in the wild develop more natural resilience.
Although governments are quick to produce tree planting goals, a top-down approach does not always yield the highest results. A local community must be invested in protecting their new and existing forests. «The science proves that communities and other collective communities do a better job of keeping forests intact over the long term, including the important life-giving services of those forests, carbon storage being one of them», said Hardie. The Land Back movement in Canada will promote healthier forests across the nation, as indigenous communities that have a value for nature, and experience stewarding the land, are entrusted with the care of their land. In Latin America and Africa, this has proven to be true, as secure land rights have been linked with higher rates of forest restoration and protection.
In the UK, the Tree Council has seen success in urban and rural environments through tree wardens; volunteers who plant, care for and advocate for trees that are at risk. Tree wardens have planted over 7.5 million trees in community efforts across the country.
Daimen Hardie describes how the focus of Community Forests International in Canada was inspired by their work in Zanzibar. «When they restore a forest, they know that part of that restoration process will involve creating income and jobs, and they will harvest some of the forest that they restore to pay for the things that their family needs», says Hardie. Community Forests International work together with locals to reforest degraded areas, implementing practices such as agroforestry, where forest crops can be sold, creating food, energy, and livelihoods. «The idea that we can put up a fence around nature in one area, keep people out, and then in all the other parts of the landscape have destruction is not going to get us to a good place», says Hardie. When workers and landowners have a vested interest in forest health and biodiversity, a reciprocal relationship is possible.
In both rural and urban forests, community involvement is important for tree protection, biodiversity, and carbon drawdown. These protection measures combined will impact tree health for generations to come. «The best way to protect trees – the hardest to effect – is to change our relationship with forests, and the world, to one that is reciprocal and about caring, about thinking of the future», says Hardie, «When we can affect that cultural change, then that is what is going to change the world».
if tree planting is not supported with care, forests can do more harm to the climate than good