Answer: When it’s a plantation.
Have you noticed lately how there seems to be an urgent appeal to plant trees – millions of them.
The reason? To combat climate change. The Earth’s atmosphere is becoming more and more saturated with CO2. For the past 800,000 years or more the concentration was less than 300 parts per million (ppm). That changed rapidly over the past 60 or so years, so that now the atmosphere contains well over 400 ppm.1
One of the ways to combat this build-up is to plant trees, lots of them.
Great idea, but let us not pretend that we are planting forests. We’re not!
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defines a forest as being an area of greater than 0.5 hectares, with trees that a more than 5m tall and where the canopy covers more than 10%.
That definition is woefully inadequate for a forest. It may define a plantation, but a forest it does not.
A couple of other features of forests help to show just how insufficient, and inaccurate, that definition is. A forest is:
- Diverse. The variety of trees, shrubs, ferns, fungi, mycelium, birds, animals and insects is immense within a forest.
- Complex. The connections, inter-connections, and symbiosis of a forest is a lot more complex than is a plantation. The complexity is such that it is impossible to enumerate.
- Contains elders. Ancestral trees in a forest can be thousands of years old. They have provided shelter, nutrients, and protection for saplings and other plants for many hundreds of years, allowing the forest to survive.
- All stages of life are included. There are day old saplings, 50 year old youngsters, and the elders. There are also decaying trees, providing the much needed nutrients for the young.
- Underground there is so much going on that we don’t really know much about it. The Wood Wide Web of mycelium, roots, and fungi connect trees so that they can share nutrients, warn one another of dangers, and nurture the young.
But, ignorant or not, we can appreciate the beauty, the magnificence and the healing power of forests.
We know how much forests help in keeping the planet healthy (that’s the reason for the current desire to plant trees). We are coming to learn how much forests can do for our own well-being.
Now, here’s the rub.
A plantation can be re-planted. A forest cannot*.
When we lose a forest, we have lost it for thousands of years.
1. The website co2.earth gives a reading of 411.7 ppm for July 2019. (accessed 13 August 2019)
* I need to modify this statement a little. A forest can be replanted, so long as those doing the replanting accept that they will not live to see the forest in its glory, and that the forest may not be a "forest" for several hundred years.