National and World News Editor
September 21, 2012 was the International Day of Struggle against Monoculture Tree Plantations, an annual event planned by conservation groups.
Tree plantations are born when an ecosystem is destroyed and harvested for its natural resources. New trees are planted in place of the once fertile landscape, and in about 20 years those new trees are cut down to retrieve their bounty. And so the cycle emerges: Loggers cut down trees and burn the remaining stumps to release nutrients into the ground, plantation owners swoop in to plant rubber, palm oil, timber or other trees, and those new trees are then harvested for their goods.
Environmentalists are concerned that the process of deforestation and tree planting has a threefold impact on the environment. They believe tree plantations contribute to the loss of biodiversity, carbon emissions, and climate change.
Studies show that an ecosystem never fully recovers when it has been destroyed for the creation of a tree plantation. It is estimated that species living in tree plantation areas are reduced by 40 to 60 percent. Palm oil plantations seem to have the most severe environmental impact; researchers estimate an 83 percent loss in biodiversity in those areas.
“We’ve cut entire forests in North America, clear-cut entire states; it has forever changed our country. Our country is like a potato – we’ve peeled away all the forests, leaving only a couple speckled black spots of forestry,” said Daniel Yocom, microbiology professor.
In a joint press release from World Rainforest Movement, Friends of the Earth International and Global Forest Coalition, numerous arguments are made against tree plantations.
“Large-scale monoculture tree plantations cause serious environmental, social and economic impacts on local communities. These impacts have been amply documented around the world, and include the depletion of water sources due to changes in the hydrological cycle; deterioration of rivers and streams; air and water pollution due to the use of pesticides and other agrochemicals; the displacement of entire communities where their land is occupied by plantations; and the violation of human, labor and environmental rights,” said Ricardo Carrere (World Rainforest Movement), Simone Lovera (Global Forest Coalition), and Isaac Rojas (Friends of the Earth International).
The press release also says tree plantations are being falsely promoted as a solution to climate change.
Supporters of tree plantations believe that the process is inherently positive. Tree plantation activists do not think tree-planting operations are flawless, but they do believe planting trees helps prevent global warming and provides various socioeconomic and environmental benefits.
Tree plantation operations stress the importance of following procedures. They have comprehensive accrediting schemes that include economic and environmental objectives that should be met.
Dr. Aaron Haines, assistant biology professor, said, “Forestry can be done sustainably, depending on the right management practices. I’m not a big fan of tree plantations. Select tree cutting and multistage harvesting are alternatives to forestry.” Select tree cutting is the harvesting of only highest-grade timbers; everything else in the forest remains. Multistage harvesting is the cutting of small patches in the forest. This allows the area to grow more abundant than other forestry methods. “Some species benefit from sustainable forestry practices,” said Haines.
Deforestation is not going to stop. Focusing on the most sustainable and environmentally friendly ways of forestry is necessary for protecting the world’s remaining woodland and rainforests.
“It’s idiotic that we cut as many trees as we have. We must restore areas as secondary growth ecosystems now. The forests will never be the same,” said Yocom.