Wednesday 10 April 2019

Billion Trees

Vast tracts of the Eastern and Western Cape were forested in colonial times and were clear cut for construction, ship building and furniture.

My own house has ridiculously wide yellowwood floorboards (dating to the 1840s). You could never get this sort of timber today – all the big trees are gone.

Much talk of land is about ownership but not about use. The Eastern Cape particularly is very dry – though we have occasional wet periods creating an illusion of plenty. That limits viable forms of agriculture, hence the proliferation of game farms. But game farms are not big employers nor necessarily environmentally sound as there is temptation to bring in animals not suited to the habitat but that tourists will pay to see.

A forest – the end product
What about a massive reforestation campaign? For example: planting a billion trees. This would be a massive job creator, it could be funded in part by foreign donor nations wanting to cur their carbon footprint, if could transform the landscape and local climate and create a long-term sustainable source of income.

There is a lot of variability in the standards for trees per hectare; to calculate a ballpark figure, let us work with 1000 trees per hectare. A billion trees would require a million hectares. The Eastern Cape land area is 169,580km2, or about 17-million hectares. A million hectares is less than 6% of the province’s land area. If insufficient land were available in one province, it could be spread to others – the point is that a million hectares is not that much on a national scale.

Reforesting is not a trivial exercise – you need pioneer species that can grow without the forest that gradually diminish as the canopy increases. You also need trees that suit the local environment and a diversity of vegetation that builds a healthy biome.

Putting forest back where it was removed would promote biodiversity and could also enhance rainfall as dry ground tends to absorb water fast without releasing it to the atmosphere. I went to a private conservancy north of Brisbane a few years back. It was a lush subtropical rain forest with streams and diverse plants and wildlife. The neglected land next door, overgrown with invaders, was dry and dusty.

For long-term sustainability I advocate a mix of old-growth trees that should not be harvested because they sequester carbon and faster-growing trees that can be harvested and replaced on a regular cycle. The new forests will attract wild life and provide economic opportunity in the form of ecotourism.

The final question: on whose land? That is a wholly separate issue. This concept can work on private land, government land or under traditional ownership. The only thing that changes is who benefits from any financial gain.

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Billion Trees

Vast tracts of the Eastern and Western Cape were forested in colonial times and were clear cut for construction, ship building and furniture...