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Tree Planting Isn't What You Think It Is

By Lindsay Cobb
Tree Planting Isn't What You Think It Is
LISTEN APR 21, 2020

Earth Day is April 22nd and were we not confronting a pandemic you’d likely have heard quite a bit more about it leading up to this week. It’s a day dedicated to the health of the planet and both its environment and all of the species that inhabit it.

This week, while environmental groups attempt to pull attention to environmental issues and climate change, you’ll hear one tried and true way to help planet Earth: plant a tree. The popularization of efforts like the Trillion Tree Campaign are a welcome sight in the tree planting community. But the excitement and enthusiasm for tree planting must be harnessed appropriately. Because tree planting is not simply planting a tree.

“Trees are an incredibly powerful tool in the fight against climate change, but tree planting alone is not a silver bullet,” explains Trees for the Future Executive Director and agroforestry expert John Leary. “Mass tree planting efforts have the power to gain media attention and public enthusiasm, but they’re not a sustainable option when attempting to reforest lands and capture the increasing carbon levels in our atmosphere.”

As a tree planting and regenerative agroforestry nonprofit, Trees for the Future (TREES) has planted more than 180 million trees in the last 30 years, and that number is growing rapidly. But the trees being planted are not planted in bulk and, most importantly, they’re not the only thing being planted. TREES’ Forest Garden Approach teaches farmers to integrate trees in their farming practices. Forest Garden farmers plant an average of 2,000 trees on one acre of land to protect and revitalize their soil.

“Our approach to tree planting is unique in that we’ve built it into the main driver of deforestation in the first place - agriculture. Modern farming tells us to maximize space by clearing it, which has left us with millions of acres of deforested and desertified land,” Learn says. “But it doesn’t have to be that way. When we teach farmers to use trees to their advantage, we see health and income increase and deforestation decrease.”

Another key difference between mass tree planting and planting trees in a Forest Garden is the success rate. As shared in a recent Bloomberg piece on Trees for the Future and the issue with mortality rates in tree planting, Leary says the tree planting is only as good as the survival rate.

“Planting a tree is just the start. You plant that seed or seedling, then you have to make sure that it gets the water it needs, you have to protect it from extreme weather, you have to protect it from wildlife. You can’t just plant it and walk away,” he says.

And that’s where the Forest Garden Approach is so successful in tree planting and survival rates. Because farmers are planting the trees on their farmland, to both improve the health of their land as well as harvest the food and resources of those trees, they have a vested interest in the success of those trees. This investment is particularly important during global crises like COVID-19 , Forest Garden farmers are able to overcome external challenges outside of their control. Trees for the Future and Forest Garden farmers are not planting trees and walking away, they’re planting trees and reaping the benefits for years.

This Earth Day, don’t plant a tree and walk away. Plant trees and change lives with Trees for the Future.

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