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Newly cut down forest at a deforestation area with trunks and branches lying on the ground, in spring sunlight and blue sky

Forest fires and its resulting deforestation from tree loss are continually in the news. We read about the fires in Australia, the Amazon Rainforest and here in the United States. Unfortunately, as June is rolling into July, look for another busy wildfire season in the West. A relatively dry fall and winter coupled with mountain snowpacks that melted faster than normal, and overall warmer and drier-than-average conditions forecast this summer will keep firefighters busy.

Fact: In 2015, global forest cover fell below ten billion acres for the first time in human history.

Major deforestation is not only caused by forest fires, however. What is deforestation, technically? Deforestation is the permanent removal of trees to make room for something besides forest. This can include clearing the land for agriculture or grazing, or using the timber for fuel, construction or manufacturing.

Fact: Every year, more than 20 million football fields’ worth of forests (15 billion trees!) continue to be cut down.Stacks of trees cut down as the result of deforestation

Forests cover more than 30% of the Earth’s land surface, according to the World Wildlife Fund. These forested areas can provide food, medicine and fuel for more than a billion people. Worldwide, forests provide 13.4 million people with jobs in the forest sector, and another 41 million people have jobs related to forests. Forests are a resource, but they are also large, undeveloped swaths of land that can be converted for purposes such as agriculture and grazing. In North America, about half the forests in the eastern part of the continent were cut down for timber and farming between the 1600s and late 1800s, according to National Geographic.

Fact: At the current rate of deforestation, Earth’s rainforests, including the Amazon, could be completely gone in 100 years.

That’s bad news for everyone, especially for the 1/2 of the world’s terrestrial flora and fauna and 3/4 of all birds that live in and around forests. Additionally, 70% of land animals and plant species live in forests. The trees of the rainforest that provide shelter for some species also provide the canopy that regulates the temperature. Destruction of these forests along with its resulting change in temperature has a devastating effect on the forests’ inhabitants.

Deforestation in tropical regions can also affect the way water vapor is produced over the canopy, which causes reduced rainfall. A 2019 study published in the journal Ecohydrology showed that parts of the Amazon rainforest that were converted to agricultural land had higher soil and air temperatures, which can exacerbate drought conditions. In comparison, forested land had rates of evapotranspiration that were about three times higher, adding more water vapor to the air.

Fact: industrial agriculture accounts for around 73% of deforestation worldwide. The majority of this can be attributed to meat (particularly beef cattle), soy, and palm oil.

Meat producers clear vast swaths of forest to graze their livestock and in turn, the production of livestock feed accounts for 80% of the soybeans grown—and you may be surprised to learn that poultry and pigs eat up almost as much of that soy as cattle does.

Many forests are also cleared to make way for palm oil plantations. Palm oil is the most commonly produced vegetable oil and is found in half of all supermarket products. It’s cheap, versatile and can be added to both food and personal products like lipsticks and shampoo. Its popularity has spurred people to clear tropical forests to grow more palm trees. Deforestation to make way for a Palm Oil PlantationGrowing the trees that produce the oil requires the leveling of native forest and the destruction of local peatlands, increasing harmful effects on the ecosystem.

Fact: One mature tree can consume 48 pounds of carbon a year!

Forests play a critical role in mitigating climate change because they act as a carbon sink—soaking up carbon dioxide that would otherwise be free in the atmosphere. Trees also absorb carbon dioxide, mitigating greenhouse gas emissions produced by human activity. As climate change continues, trees play an important role in carbon sequestration, or the capture and storage of excess carbon dioxide. Tropical trees alone are estimated to provide about 23% of the climate mitigation that’s needed to offset climate change, according to the World Resources Institute, a nonprofit global research institute.

But once trees are chopped down, all that absorbed carbon gets released right back into the atmosphere.  Deforestation, therefore, not only removes vegetation that is important for removing carbon dioxide from the air, but the act of clearing the forests also produces greenhouse gas emissions. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says that deforestation is the second-leading cause of climate change. (The first is the burning of fossil fuels.) In fact, deforestation accounts for nearly 20% of greenhouse gas emissions. Stopping deforestation, then, is absolutely critical if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Solution: Develop alternatives to deforestation, such as sustainable farming, to decrease the need for tree clearing.Earth design with words There Is No Planet "B"

As large amounts of forests are cleared away, allowing exposed earth to whither and die and the habitats of innumerable species to be destroyed, the indigenous communities who live there and depend on the forest to sustain their way of life are also under threat.

The loss of forests has an immediate and direct effect on their lifestyle that we in the highly industrialized parts of the world, despite our own dependency on what the rainforest provides, will never know. The level of immediacy is exponentially greater for indigenous peoples.

If communities in developing nations were able to adopt sustainable farming practices or employed new farming technologies and crops, the need for more land might be diminished, according to the UN’s Sustainable Forest Management Toolbox.  Indigenous people and local forest communities are on the front line of the battle for the forests they call home. When you plant your trees through The Gifted Tree in Africa and Asia, the project not only is replacing trees, but is educating community members, especially the youth, as to the long-term benefits of trees. Areas of education include farmers being trained in best tree planting methods, nursery preparation, farm conservation and finance, and irrigation management. They also learned methods and techniques to protect trees to withstand local climatic conditions and thus help to ensure the newly planted trees’ long-term survival. Most of these individuals have no knowledge of proper land management techniques, but this training will be a significant factor in the fight against deforestation.

Solution: Plant More trees.Replanting trees in deforested areas

Forests can also be restored, through replanting trees in cleared areas or simply allowing the forest ecosystem to regenerate over time. The goal of restoration is to return the forest to its original state, before it was cleared, according to the U.S. Forest Service. The sooner a cleared area is reforested, the quicker the ecosystem can start to repair itself. Afterward, wildlife will return, water systems will reestablish, carbon will be sequestered and soils will be replenished. Remember, trees help control the level of water in the atmosphere by helping to regulate the water cycle. In deforested areas, there is less water in the air to be returned to the soil. This then causes dryer soil and the inability to grow crops.

If done correctly, reforestation can restore damaged ecosystems, stabilize soil and soil erosion, support the water cycle, reduce coastal flooding and slowly recover the vital ecosystem services that depend on. Trees also help the land to retain water and topsoil, which provides the rich nutrients to sustain additional forest life. Planting new trees is, ultimately, an investment in future forests and is the calling and mission of The Gifted Tree!

 

 

Leap year graphic of person jumping over a canyon

As we all know, this Saturday, February 29, 2020, is a Leap Day . Leap year is a calendar year that contains an additional day added to keep the calendar year synchronized with the astronomical year or seasonal year. Leap years are necessary because the actual length of a year is 365.242 days, not 365 days, as we are taught early on. Because astronomical events and seasons do not repeat in a whole number of days, calendars that have the same number of days in each year drift over time with respect to the event that the year is supposed to track. By inserting an additional day, the drift can be corrected.

The Leap Year Tree – a New Tradition

There are several traditions around the world associated with Leap Year, but none in the United States as far as we know. While we know every day is a great day to plant trees, The Gifted Tree proposes that leap day, February 29th, become an extra special day to plant trees. If you follow our logic, which I will explain in a moment, the world’s deforestation issue will certainly be helped.

Leap Year History

First of all, some history – The Julian calendar was introduced by Julius Caesar in 45 BCE and replaced the Roman calendar. Julius Caesar’s goal was to simplify things and he was behind the origin of leap year. However, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII further refined the calendar (the Gregorian calendar) with the rule that leap day would occur in any year divisible by four. This is the calendar that we in the United States use today.Tree frog on tree branch

Leap Year – Historical Traditions

Regarding historical leap year traditions, February 29 is a big day in Ireland and is known as Bachelor’s Day, the day where women are encouraged to initiate dances and propose marriage. According to an old Irish legend, St. Brigid struck a deal with St. Patrick to allow women to propose to men – and not just the other way around – every four years. This is believed to have been introduced to balance the traditional roles of men and women in a similar way to how leap day balances the calendar.

In Scotland, it used to be considered unlucky for someone to be born on leap day, just as Friday 13th is considered an unlucky day by many. Greeks consider it unlucky for couples to marry during a leap year, and especially on Leap Day. Leap day is also St. Oswald’s Day, named after the archbishop of York, who died on February 29, 992. And in many European countries, especially in the upper classes of society, tradition dictates that any man who refuses a woman’s proposal on February 29 must buy her 12 pairs of gloves. The intention is that the woman can wear the gloves to hide the embarrassment of not having an engagement ring. During the middle ages there were laws governing this tradition!

The Leap Tree Frog

None of those traditions seems to have carried over to this country, but as stated above, The Gifted Tree proposes that Leap Day be an extra special day to plant trees. Follow our “logic” and I think you will agree. Leap Year and Leap Day are, for logical reasons, associated with frogs. And Tree Frogs are very popular. And what do Tree Frogs like? Trees of course. Thus, we need to plant more trees so that the habitat of the tree frog is perpetuated and we will always have tree frogs to dazzle us.Tree frog on tree

“Logic” Wins Out

But just as important to helping tree frogs, if we plant a tree on Leap Day, February 29th, in a hundred years when trees when trees not planted on leap day will be reaching their life span, our Leap Year trees will only be 25 and in the prime of their existence!. The trees we plant on February 29th will last four times as long and will help solve the earth’s deforestation problem. A simple solution with far-reaching benefits: Helping the habitat of our tree frog friends and increasing the globe’s tree canopy.

Do Your Part

So, this Saturday, February 29th, as the sun starts to rise,  help start our new tradition of planting Leap Trees, be it in celebration or in memory, and give the world an extra-lasting gift too!

Leap year sunrise

Tree clear-cutting showing the ravaging effects of deforestation

Showing the ravaging effects of deforestation

Half the World’s Trees Gone

The destruction of many of the world’s forests is occurring and occurring swiftly. Whether the deforestation going on globally is causing climate change and global warming is sometimes debated, but it is pretty much universally agreed that one simple deforestation solution is to plant more trees. It is a cost-effective way to help and The Gifted Tree is doing its best to aid in the cause. More on that in a bit, but another way to help is to stop deforestation by not cutting down as many trees in the first place.

Every year, an estimated 15 billion trees are chopped down across the planet to make room for agricultural and urban lands and other uses. We’ve cut down so many, in fact, that what’s left is about half of the number of trees that the Earth supported before the rise of human civilization, and scientists warn that it’s not helping our climate.

Causes of Climate Change and Global Warming?

Global deforestation is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. When trees are cut down, says Stanford University professor Rob Jackson, who chairs the Earth System Science Department and Global Carbon Project, it can release years of a forests’ stored carbon back into the atmosphere. “Forests provide many benefits beyond storing carbon,” Jackson continues. “They store and recycle our water, they prevent erosion, they harbor biodiversity. There’s a legion of reasons to protect forests, especially in the tropics. When we plant forests, we gain some of those benefits, but it takes a long time to grow a healthy forest.” Rebuilding woodland is a slow and often difficult task which requires patience. It can take several decades or longer for forests to regrow as viable habitats, and to absorb the same amount of carbon lost when trees are cut and burned.

Where to Plant is Vital

Global heat map indicating the best places to plant trees on earth

Global heat map indicating the best places to plant trees on earth

What we are learning is that not every spec of earth is suitable for planting trees. Some land does need to be used for crops and pastures, but there is much outlaying and marginal land that can best be served by planting trees on it. Thus, it is vitally important to understand where it is best to plant trees. Using high-tech satellite photography, scientist can determine the natural level of tree cover across a range of ecosystems. A recently released study by a Swiss company in the journal Science estimates there are approximately 2.2 billion acres of land worldwide suitable for reforestation, which could ultimately capture two thirds of human-made carbon emissions. The global tree restoration potential report found that there is enough suitable land to increase the world’s forest cover by one-third without affecting existing cities or agriculture. It turns out that more than half the potential to restore trees can be found in just six countries: Russia, USA, Canada, Australia, Brazil, and China. These countries have so much potential because they’ve already removed much of their existing forests, said lead author of the study, Jean-Francois Bastin.

Monitoring Tree Planting is Essential

Successful tree reforestation needs to be done in the right manner. As The Gifted Tree works with tree planting partners around the world, we are learning that programs that work long-term take into account native plant species. There also needs to be a sustained commitment to monitoring forests, not just one-off tree planting events. The upside is this monitoring and educating economically benefits the local population by creating jobs and reduces erosion that damages homes and crops.

When done right, the impact is tremendous. The Swiss study concluded that if all available 2.2 billion acres of new trees were to be planted, around 500 billion saplings, once they reach maturity could absorb 220 gigatons of carbon, the equivalent to about two thirds of man-made carbon emissions since the start of the Industrial revolution. While some of these facts have been challenged as an easy solution to the climate change issue, it is pretty much agreed that the planting of trees matters.

Success Stories From Your Gift Trees

This is why The Gifted Tree is working with dedicated tree partners to not only plant trees, but to monitor their growth to help ensure long-term sustainability. To provide a few examples, take the planting project in Peru where a lot of the forest has been lost to illegal mining. Not only are old growth trees being cut and burned, but miners use diesel pumps to suck up deep layers of the earth, then push the soil through filters to extract gold particles. To turn the particles into nuggets, mercury is stirred in helping bind the particles but also poisoning the land, turning it into desert-like land – dry, sandy, stripped of topsoil and ringed by trunks of dead tree. Our partners are planting saplings of various species native to this part of the Peruvian Amazon, thus when you plant a gift tree in Peru, it is helping bring back the Amazon forest to its original grandeur.

In another project closer to home, focus is on former mining sites in the Appalachian forests of West Virginia and trying to reverse bad planting techniques employed by mining companies in the 1980s. Back then the companies used heavy machinery to push upturned soil back into place. The result was soil so compacted that rainwater would just wash off and not get into the tree roots. The planted species had shallow roots or were non-native trees that could endure but wouldn’t reach their full height or restore the forest to what it had been. Now we understand better what is needed, and your gift trees are native Appalachian trees that can prosper and bring back these forests to what they once were.

Deforestation Solutions: Not an Either-Or Choice

These and other planting projects undertaken by The Gifted Tree planting partners are helping with forest reforestation around the world which we think is one of the best climate change solutions available today. That does not alter the vital importance of protecting existing forests by limiting deforestation since new forests can take decades to mature. Slowing down or putting a halt to deforestation or planting new forests – it’s not an either-or choice. We can do both