SEP 8, 2021 • Article
What Is Reforestation & Why Is It So Important?
Tree planting initiatives seem to be popping up everywhere, but reforestation isn't as simple as just dropping a seed in the ground. For reforestation to have an impact on climate change, the process must be carefully planned from seed to sapling. Keep reading to learn how reforestation works and why planting trees is so important in the fight against climate change.
What Is Reforestation?
Reforestation is the act of planting trees in areas where existing forests have been depleted. The removal of trees, or deforestation, can occur due to wildfires, clearing land for agriculture and industry, or even through infestations of insects or disease. Restoring the natural woodlands in areas that have been deforested is believed to be one of the best ways to remove carbon emissions from the air and help to mitigate climate change.
You probably remember from your school years that trees absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, which is the opposite of how our human respiratory systems work. Carbon dioxide makes up the largest percentage of greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change. It makes sense that more trees and forests help to remove carbon emissions from the atmosphere.
Why Is Reforestation Important?
Mature forests are one of the largest carbon sinks in the world. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, forests absorb 2.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year. Land that has been deforested presents an opportunity to replant lost trees and remove even more greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere.
So, exactly how many trees will it take to reverse climate change? It's not an easy answer. Forests take a long time to grow, and different types of trees absorb carbon dioxide at different rates. Instead of focusing on the number of trees planted, many experts recommend developing a well-rounded planting program.
Reforestation Done Right
Planting trees is important, but it's only one step in a multi-step reforestation project. The hard work begins long before the saplings are placed in the ground. Failing to prepare the site for a tree-planting campaign puts the new trees at risk. A successful campaign must be approached correctly for it to work.
Where Should You Plant?
Choosing the site of a large reforestation project can't be rushed. The location must be studied and the delicate needs of the ecosystem taken into account. Climate, soil, and the local flora and fauna all play a part in the success of a tree-planting campaign.
For example—grasslands, savannahs, and meadows seem like a great place to start planting trees because of the open land, but the grasses in those environments are already doing a great job of absorbing carbon dioxide. Disrupting the ecosystem by introducing trees can have the opposite effect on climate change.
What Types of Trees Should You Plant?
It might seem like common sense to choose the fastest-growing trees and plant as many as possible in one area. Bamboo (though technically a grass) grows at a very high rate and can reach maturity in five to six years, so why not plant all deforested areas with groves of bamboo? The answer is that non-native trees can become invasive, taking over the ecosystem and causing more harm than good.
A mix of native trees with genetic diversity creates a resilient forest that supports a wide variety of plants, insects, and native species. Choosing to plant one species of tree can lead to what is called a monoculture. A monoculture of trees can strip the soil of nutrients because there are too many trees with the same needs in one area.
Where Do the Trees Come From?
Growing a forest from seeds would take much too long, which is why saplings are used in reforestation projects. Nurseries play an important role in collecting the right seeds and tending the seedlings until they are ready for planting. Seedlings can take anywhere from 12 weeks to 3 years to grow into plantable saplings.
One of the biggest challenges for reforestation projects is securing the large number of saplings needed for planting. Seed collectors who understand native tree species are in high demand because many nurseries use wild seeds. Once procured, the seedlings need time to grow to maturity, which means that nurseries are working continuously to create a pipeline of healthy saplings.
How Are the Trees Protected?
Saplings are vulnerable and require protection while they establish a mature root system. This process can take many years, even decades, which is why it's important to create a long-term protection program to monitor reforestation projects.
Forest guardians are needed to monitor and assess the saplings as they grow. Many replanting initiatives fall short in this area and end up losing new growth forests to pests, extreme temperatures, and poor planning.
When done right, reforestation projects have the potential to remove large amounts of greenhouse gasses from the air. Regrowing native forests also protects biodiversity, provides a wildlife habitat, and prevents soil erosion. Forests provide shelter, food, and firewood for many people around the world. This is why protecting the trees that we already have is extremely important, but reforestation is the next step to planning a greener future for the planet.
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