The Problems With Tree Planting

We lean towards brand that do it for every purchase made. But is tree planting as great as we think? Here are some of the problems with tree planting

By Chere Di Boscio

We increasingly see companies advertising their tree planting initiatives. Whether they offer it to their clients with each purchase, or whether they do it to offset their own carbon emissions, the fact that businesses are keen to do this reflects on their love of nature and the planet.

It seems like a great idea. I mean, trees equal cleaner air, biodiversity, shade, and stronger soil. But does tree planting really make a positive impact on the environment?

Some people are convinced it does. Others believe it’s a form of greenwashing. So, what’s the truth? We asked our friends at Solios watches – who have dug into this issue deeply – for some answers.

What Are Some Problems With Tree Planting?

There’s all kinds of good publicity around tree planting initiatives. That’s true even here at Eluxe! However, some experts are now claiming that tree planting can be doing more harm than good, for several reasons.

Image below: Palm oil monoculture forest in Indonesia

problems with tree planting

1. Commercial cultivation

One of the biggest problems with tree planting is that usually, only one variety of tree will be planted within a given area. This method doesn’t reflect the way that forests actually grow and repopulate in nature. It’s the equivalent of monoculture farming.

In most cases, these monocultures are planted because it allows for the harvesting of a commercial resource when wood is needed again. The question is: can we count these ‘replanted’ trees towards the goal of reforestation if they will inevitably be commercially cultivated?

2. Early cutting

Another of the biggest problems with tree planting is that planted trees are often harvested early in their life cycle. This limits their capacity to allow life to thrive in the tree, as it should. Insects and birds should be living there, as well as microorganisms. It also limits the trees’ ability to store carbon the way a mature forest would.

3. Poor planting

Yet another of the problems with tree planting is the species chosen and planting method. Sometimes, the species of tree chosen for planting and the method of putting it into the earth are so poor, the trees never grow. To illustrate, a 2017 study pointed out that 9 out of 23 reforestation projects in Sri Lanka saw not a single tree grow! Only 3 of those 23 studies saw more than half the trees planted grow to maturity. All in all, less than 20% of the 2500 acres planted saw significant growth.

In an even worse example, South Africa once planted a specimen of Australian acacia to prevent dune erosion. They quickly saw this species grow out of control, drying out waterways and threatening the country’s biodiversity. The country is now spending millions of dollars in an attempt to get rid of the invasive species. In the Peruvian Andes, eucalyptus was planted for quick access to construction wood. Today, the water-loving species is invasive to the point of killing off local trees, as the eucalyptus sucks up all the water they need to grow.

4. More trees…more cutting?

What most consumers of products that offer a tree planted with every purchase don’t know is that the company doing the planting might be eventually profiting from that tree. They might have an interest in another company that makes stuff out of the tree when it’s cut.

Yep, it’s true. Even large, worldwide NGOs like the Trillion Tree Campaign don’t really help the planet due to their association with commercial logging interests. Furthermore, it’s possible that companies may be emboldened to pursue lumbering activities because, elsewhere, they’ve planted saplings.

Better Ideas Than Tree Planting

Given the above mentioned problems with tree planting, we must stop thinking that contributing to tree planting charities or companies is helping the planet. Instead, we should encourage reforestation that’s done with the wellbeing of the planet in mind, rather than commercial enrichment.

We should be planting trees with the goal of seeing them – and the flora and fauna that live on and with them – thrive.

And one of the best ways to care for this Earth is not to plant new trees, but to protect old growth forests and prevent deforestation. Doing so has many benefits. It helps:

  • avoid forest fires
  • wildlife to thrive
  • stop desertification
  • increase biodiversity

One of the biggest problems with tree planting is fire. Young forests —because of the lack of biodiversity— are always most vulnerable to forest fires. It could be argued that, in certain places, where forest fires run rampant for much of the year, reforestation efforts are  essentially useless.

“For all these reasons, Solios has decided to focus on the protection of our forests rather than in reforestation,” says Samuel Leroux, co-founder of Solios Watches. Leroux has created a policy at Solios: for every watch sold, they protect an acre of tropical forest. Here’s how they do it.

How To Protect Forests From Deforestation

There are two ways of protecting tropical forests, and both methods go together.

Image below: Rangers in the Virunga Park. Every year, rangers are killed by the poachers. 
problems with tree planting

First, tropical forests and the species within them that are most at risk need to be identified. Those areas need to be bought before they fall into the hands of logging, ranching, mining, property development or agricultural companies.

Unfortunately, owning land in the rainforest isn’t enough to protect it against commercial activities, In fact, much illegal commercial activity happens on privately owned land. To ensure your forested land isn’t destroyed by greed, you need to work with local communities who care the most about these forests. In short, you need to hire local people to guard and patrol the land.

There are some NGOs such as the Rainforest Trust Foundation, which can help facilitate this. The Rainforest Trust Foundation has partnered with Solios, and has acquired and protected 38 million acres of forest, 99% of which are still intact to this day.

What Can You Do?

We, as consumers and citizens, should, of course, plant trees whenever possible ourselves. But first, learn about native trees in your area, and the best places and methods for planting them.

As for making purchases from corporations, be careful. Given the problems with tree planting, if they’re promising ‘one tree planted’ with each purchase, look into their policies and the NGOs they might be working with. Ensure they’re not profiting off tree planting, and that they’re putting a wide variety of saplings in the soil.

As the saying goes: the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And we can say the same about the road to environmental stability!

This article about the problems with tree planting was based on a piece by Samuel Leroux

Chere Di Boscio
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