Are Huge Tree Planting Projects More Hype than Solution? - Yale E360
But a growing number of scientists and environmentalists are challenging this narrative on tree-planting. They say that planting programs, especially those based on large numerical targets, can wreck natural ecosystems, dry up water supplies, damage agriculture, push people off their land — and even make global warming worse. They point to flaws in the studies that have inspired large-scale programs, and say that harmful types of tree planting are regularly conflated with beneficial natural forest restoration. Tree planting can distract from the greater priorities of protecting existing forests and reducing fossil fuel use, they say, and conserving and restoring natural open ecosystems, like grasslands, can often deliver more benefits than afforestation.
Sally Archibald, an ecologist at Wits University in South Africa, says that planting enthusiasts often overlook the fact that “people are using all this land that everyone thinks is available for planting trees. If you plant trees there, you’re losing livelihoods, you’re losing future opportunities, and you’re damaging natural biodiversity.”
Many planting proponents acknowledge that trees can have negative effects, but that putting the “right trees in the right places” can sequester carbon, rebuild forests, and enhance agricultural productivity. “If we plant the right trees in the right places and manage them in the right way, we can accomplish a lot,” says Wes Swaffar of American Forests, which leads the U.S. chapter of 1t.org. “Forests are the best nature-based solution to climate change,” he says, adding that “trees also provide many benefits to people, like improving health and creating [forestry-related] job opportunities.”