2020 has been a difficult year in many ways and most of us won’t be sad when the ball drops on New Year’s Eve, ushering in the new year and hope for a better one ahead. There have been many stresses associated with the COVID-9 pandemic and an election year to boot. There have also been unprecedented stresses on the earth and our environment as climate change has wreaked havoc around the world. Forest fires of great size have occurred in all corners of the globe, and storms and other natural disasters have challenged all of us living on the planet. Yet, with all the devastation, there have been good environmental news stories from 2020 that can bring a smile to our face. Stories that your tree planting projects have helped us realize that there was some good news in 2020. And while world-wide forest devastation is an ongoing issue, let’s focus on three tree planting projects that you and The Gifted Tree have been involved in that have made a positive impact in the past year along with two other feel good tree-related stories.

1. India

Despite the challenges of COVID-19, our planting project in India planted many fruit trees which are directly impacting impoverished communities providing long-term fruit harvesting opportunities to farmers and rural villages. As one of the world’s largest food producers, it is an unfortunate irony that India is also home to the largest population of hungry people in the world. As people have lost their jobs and incomes due to the pandemic, food insecurity has skyrocketed among those already vulnerable.

Especially impacted are small farmers across India, who face droughts, floods, fluctuating markets, and now a pandemic. Meanwhile, many water sources are drying up as rivers are diverted, and climate change brings more extreme and less predictable weather patterns. Trees once shaded the landscape and kept soil and moisture in place, but in many parts of rural India, trees have historically been cleared for the expansion of farmland. Today, people are realizing the many benefits of planting trees to help green India and combat hunger.

With the help of dedicated local tree ambassadors, farmers are given fruit trees and encouraged to practice organic and sustainable farming practices. In this way, planting trees helps foster environmental consciousness and sustainability in rural communities. Trees planted include lemon, guava, custard apple, gooseberry, pomegranate, jack fruit, wood apple, and tamarind. All are native trees that produce a high yield of fruit seasonally or year-round. As these trees mature and yield fruit, they ensure food for local people during difficult times, acting as an insurance policy during times of drought or pandemic-induced insecurity.

2. Florida

You don’t read too much about wildfires in Florida, but they happen. The main objective of this project was to restore longleaf pine forests. Restoration following a fire is essential in restoring the ecosystem, and allowing the land to return to its once thriving state. At one time longleaf pine forests could be found throughout much of the United States, specifically extending from Virginia to Florida and from Louisiana to Texas. Today, only small patches of these trees are found in these areas.

This tree is an evergreen conifer. It gets its name quite clearly from the way the tree looks as it has long needle-like leaves. These trees can survive many different terrains, but they prefer sandy, dry, acidic soils which is perfect for Florida! Longleaf pine ecosystems are some of the most biodiverse in North America. Many animals, including the rare the Red Cockaded Woodpecker will benefit from reforestation as they require forested ecosystems, and access to an abundance of resources.

3. Canada

The Gifted Tree was involved in another planting project to restore trees after fires in another area where you don’t read about forest fires, Canada. This time in British Columbia, where the project is focused on reforestation in the wake of the 2017 Hanceville Fire which ravaged more than 590,000 acres of forest. The Douglas Fir that was destroyed in the fire has a difficult time regenerating naturally. By planting Firs and other diverse species, including lodgepole pine, hybrid spruce, ponderosa pine, and trembling aspen, this area of forest is being regenerated quickly. The species diversity included is designed to create a more climate-resistant forest.

Douglas-fir needs live seed trees present to distribute seed. Because of the intensity of the fire there are no live seed trees for many kilometers in some places. Without tree planting, it would likely take many decades to grow back to forested conditions. Planting will greatly speed up the process of returning the forest to its former glory.

Wildfire events commonly cause soil instability and erosion, due to the removal of the top litter layer. A severe fire can also physically alter soil properties making them repel water, which can further exasperate run off and soil erosion. Reforesting fire impacted areas promotes soil stabilization via roots and slows down the percolation of water to the soil via leaves.

4. Self-powered Wildfire Detector

Scientists say they have devised a new, less expensive way to detect forest fires. A way that could alert authorities earlier and hopefully be able to quell a fire before it ravages out of control. The new prototype fire detector doesn’t need batteries; it is powered by a “triboelectric generator” that harnesses small motions to produce energy, generating electricity from the slightest swinging of tree branches. The device requires a breeze to provide power, but fires create air currents, meaning power will likely be readily available. The technology is both fire- and waterproof, and because it has no batteries, there is no risk of leaking harmful metals.

At this point there are only prototypes devices which need to be field tested. But it is an exciting development as the device has several advantages over current fire surveillance approaches. Not only would it be cheaper and easier to operate in the long run, but it would provide more continuous monitoring than satellites, which often appear only periodically over specific parts of Earth. And, unlike satellites, the system would not be blinded by local weather conditions or the smoke and dust of wildfires. Triboelectric nanogenerators have revolutionized tech—from creating self-powered heart-rate monitors to battery-free intruder detectors—and the new device has the potential to do the same with forest fire monitoring. Stay tuned!

5. Using Drones to Plant Trees

Fact – we need to massively reforest the planet and we need to do it in a short amount of time.

Possible solution – Using AI (artificial intelligence) and drones to help with the task.

How does it work? – First, the replanting areas are identified using a combination of satellite images and drone-collected data. Specialized planting drones take to the skies loaded with seedpods containing a germinated seed and nutrients. Once in position, the drones use pressurized air to fire the seeds into the ground – at 120 pods per minute. The seedpods penetrate the earth and start to grow once activated by water.

Experts estimate that using this new technology would enable governments to restore forests much faster than planting by hand and at a much cheaper price. And because the companies involved choose native species and uses its seed pods to protect the seeds from drought, the process doesn’t typically require work from humans to keep the seedlings alive. This technology has the potential to help the world reach ambitious goals to restore forests to stem biodiversity loss and fight climate change.

Exciting news in the tree front in 2020 that can bring a smile to our faces and provide hope in what has been a tough year. Come on 2021!

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