Friday, December 25, 2009

Why Planting Trees Is Not Necessarily Green

A leading biologist says that encouraging the planting of trees can lead to ecological disaster while in some cases the cutting of trees helps preserve the environment.

Dr. Bernd Heinrich's recent op-ed piece in The New York Times ridicules "easily duped bleeding-heart 'environmentalists,' who absolutely love tree planting because it sounds so 'green.'" In a forest, there is no need for people to plant trees, he explains, sounding a bit like Dead Tree Edition, only more eloquent and knowledgeable.

"A forest is an ecosystem. It is not something planted. A forest grows on its own," writes Heinrich, emeritus professor of biology at the University of Vermont and an author of numerous books about biology and ecology. "When a tree falls, the race is on immediately to replace it. In the forests I study, there are so many seeds and seedlings that if a square foot of ground space opens up, more than a hundred trees of many different species compete to grow there."

The Kyoto Protocol set a bad precedent by allowing carbon credits for planting trees but not for preserving forests, Heinrich says. That has created incentives to clear-cut forests and replace them with single-species tree farms that have "to be ever coddled with fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and fungicides."

He notes that forests are more likely to be preserved if they have economic value -- a truth that the environmental movement so often fails to grasp.

"I admit that those of us who really do care about forests have not exactly been helpful. We have not encouraged selective harvesting from naturally occurring stands, which may be necessary," Heinrich says.

For more on this subject, please see:


Unknown said...

I think this is great thought-provoking information and makes some very valid points. I'm not sure I understand the confrontational tone and name-calling ("easily duped bleeding-heart environmentalists"), though. Insulting people doesn't educate them. But having said that--let me say that I enjoy your blog and have learned a lot from your posts.

Anonymous said...

A litle short - sighted! We SHOULD be replanting in deforested regions where clear-clutting has taken place and there are no seeds left - and areas where erosion is happening. This author should do more research. Environmentalists devoted to planting trees do not simply plant trees where it would naturally occur anyway. Ridiculous to lead people to believe that this is occurring mindlessly.