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Planting trees is a more complicated and controversial sustainability effort than it might seem. The logging industry sometimes promotes it to justify clear-cuts instead of more sustainable harvesting ­methods. Yet those newly planted trees take decades to mature, and they rarely re-create the biodiversity that’s lost by clear-cutting.

That’s why One Tree Planted, a nonprofit based in Vermont, focuses on a big-picture reforestation strategy, says founder Matt Hill.

Through more than 300 partnerships with local networks in 44 countries, One Tree Planted supports projects that offer benefits for the landscape and communities. It planted over 1.2 million trees in California in 2021 for forest-fire recovery, with a broader goal of reducing soil erosion, lowering flood risk, and restoring biodiversity.

Another effort in ­Rwanda is creating agroforestry jobs for women’s empowerment. Meanwhile, a planting initi­ative in Canada aims to restore dwindling caribou numbers: Tree density reduces sightlines for their predators and expanded habitat supports mating.

An effort in Iceland is helping to sequester carbon by introducing trees to areas that were grazed down centuries ago, and another in Indonesia is creating more habitat for orangutans and other endangered wildlife by restoring rainforest.

“Trees help clean the air by releasing oxygen, but they also contribute to healthy ecosystems,” Hill says. “A project to plant 1.5 million trees in riparian zones in the Pacific Northwest will help clean polluted waters and support the salmon population. That, in turn, helps the Southern Resident orca whales through cleaner water and a better food supply.”

Another initiative, in Arkansas, is designed to create cleaner drinking water in low-income areas. “Trees are filters that improve soil quality and water quality, but it just goes well beyond that,” he explains. “We’re not just replacing trees that were cut down through logging or lost to wildfires. We’re looking at what trees can do for an area in terms of biodiversity, economic growth, and climate adaptation.”

“Carbon offsets have their place, but our philosophy is that you can’t buy away your environmental sins,” he adds. “You need to focus on not creating pollution in the first place, and support­ing restoration to bring back natural ecosystem services. We believe trees have a major role in that.”

Learn more about One Tree Planted at onetreeplanted.org.

This was excerpted from “Climate Champions” which was published in the April 2022 issue of Experience Life magazine.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth Millard

Elizabeth Millard is a writer, editor, and farmer based in northern Minnesota.

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