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When Planting Trees Does More Harm Than Good

Trees are spectacular plants that have so much to offer. So it’s not a surprise their importance is globally recognized. 

Aesthetically, they provide greenery that all of us enjoy.

Biologically, they provide oxygen that all of us need.

And most importantly, they are one of nature’s best defenses against climate change

Image by Greg Montani from Pixabay

The benefits of trees

Trees sequester carbon dioxide, a common greenhouse gas responsible for modern-day climate change. Planting trees in mass efforts has been discussed and promoted globally as a beneficial practice for carbon dioxide sequestration, but planting trees also provides many other benefits.

Improved air quality. Trees filter pollutants such as ozone, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide from the air we breathe, as well as dust particles. 

Tree roots promote soil health and reduce soil erosion, which reduces harm from flooding events.

They benefit ecosystems. Numerous wildlife species, including humans, benefit from the biodiversity that trees support. The more biodiverse an area is in both plant and animal species, the healthier it is!

Given the benefits of trees, is it possible that tree planting campaigns do more harm than good? 

Surprisingly, yes.

And it’s important to understand why.

Chopped down forest
Chopped trees. Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

When Planting Trees Does More Harm Than Good

According to a Stanford University study, poorly designed tree-planting campaigns could do more harm than good for entire ecosystems. While tree planting efforts are in good faith, they must be carefully implemented to avoid certain risks and further damage already done.

The study emphasizes why planting trees isn’t always good nor helpful for the environment. For example, it criticizes a tree-planting project conducted in Chile, which “resulted in the loss of biologically valuable natural forests and little, if any, additional carbon sequestration.” The shame is that this outcome could have been avoided with proper planning and project management. 

Poorly designed tree planting initiatives

Many tree-planting initiatives are designed like plantations, where the same type of trees are planted over a large area. The Stanford study discourages this, as plantations “typically have significantly less potential for carbon sequestration, habitat creation and erosion control than natural forests.” To avoid harm and make a positive impact, efforts to plant trees that provide instantaneous benefits (monocultures or limited mixtures focused on production of consumer goods like fruit or rubber) instead of restoring natural forests should cease.

Rubber Tree Plantation
Aerial Para Rubber Tree, Rubber Plantation, and local road. Photo 92393704 © Wanchai Yoosumran | Dreamstime.com

The failure of tree-planting campaigns

The greatest failure of most tree planting campaigns is rooted in the assumption that trees capture carbon. In reality, it’s much more complicated. It’s more accurate to say that ecosystems, not simply trees, are the far better way to sequester carbon.

Sadly, to plant as many trees as possible, tree plantations promote the destruction of ecosystems. One paper by Forrest Fleishman notes that “many ecosystems that do not naturally support dense tree cover are targeted for large-scale tree planting.” Yet, protecting existing ecosystems is one of the most cost-effective climate crisis solutions.

Tree planting can still help

The Standford researchers do not discourage tree planting initiatives altogether, though. Only those that are improperly managed and implemented. Researchers in this study say tree planting, especially on large scales, could “have significant benefits if they include strong subsidy restrictions, such as prohibitions against replacing native forests with tree plantations.”

Thus, a variety of native tree species should be prioritized to restore a natural forest environment that closely mimics surrounding ecosystems. And trees should only be planted where they are needed. This strategy also better supports biodiversity goals, which over time will allow more flora and fauna species to thrive.

One Tree Planted tree in Peru. Photo by One Tree Planted.

Why vet tree-planting organizations

Because there are tree-planting campaigns that do more harm than good, it is essential to pay attention to the organizations behind the projects.  

When you donate to a tree-planting campaign, you want to contribute to a positive future. But because some tree-planting projects do more harm than good, you must ensure that your donation will make a positive impact and not hinder progress. 

While your heart is in the right place when supporting groups that plant trees, the science behind a planting project must be in the right place, too.

Vetting tree planting organizations is essential. 

Not all tree planting campaigns are created equal. Similarly, not all organizations are created equal. 

We strive to be part of the solution, not the problem

At Melomys, we take our partnerships with other organizations seriously, and we spare no detail. From its mission to its practices, all aspects of an organization are evaluated to ensure that our values are in alignment. 

At Melomys, we strive to partner with organizations that focus on planting trees where they are needed, in collaboration with local communities, with native trees that mimic the natural ecosystems, and with organizations that monitor the progress of what is planted.

Our partnership with One Tree Planted

We are honored to partner with One Tree Planted, a nonprofit that plants native trees and considers the overall health of an ecosystem. Through each order made at Melomys, five trees are planted in our partnership with One Tree Planted. 

Tree-planting campaign with One Tree Planted. Photo by One Tree Planted.

We strive to support a bright, sustainable future. We are careful in who we select as partners since our partnerships directly reflect our beliefs and standards. For example, we decided to partner with One Tree Planted because their efforts towards planting native trees and monitoring the growth of trees they plant is a scientific and passionate process that generates positive change. 

Your support of Melomys and One Tree Planted makes direct differences in the form of reforestation and climate change remediation that works. 

We have a goal to plant 1 million trees by 2025! 

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