Planting trees is certainly the first idea that crosses our minds regarding environmentally friendly actions. Planting trees is what ordinary citizens, politicians, businessmen, officials, children, and retirees do. Trees are planted in cities and countryside, in forests and steppes; sometimes it is only one tree, sometimes thousands of them. But is planting trees always good for the environment? What is the right approach to this matter?
In the first instance, what must be considered is a location for planting trees. There are several options available:
The first option: planting trees in a forest.
Students or officials plant trees in a deforested area together with foresters — such news stories
are released almost every week. State Forest Resources Agency of Ukraine even runs yearly campaigns focused on planting trees in forests by communities. What should you be aware of before participating in such a campaign? In Ukraine, forestry is a branch of economics that is chiefly profit-oriented. Ukrainian legislation obliges foresters to conduct reforestation on logged areas. With or without communities, foresters will replace downed trees anyway. Engaging ordinary citizens or officials in reforestation programs is mostly a coverage opportunity or part of an environmental education campaign. There is nothing wrong with these actions; however, concerned citizens who want to spend their time and resources helping forests should know that planting trees in logged areas is not an efficient reforestation measure. In addition, you must understand that forestry management plans to cut down trees planted by you in the future.
The second option: planting trees on grasslands, steppes, and other natural areas.
It is a relatively common practice in our country to plant trees within the boundaries of natural treeless ecosystems. For instance, planting trees on Dnipro river (Ukraine) slopes or steppe gulches. Such actions not only can be inefficient but also harmful. Nature is not all about forests. Steppes and grasslands are also ecosystems that feature very little to no trees.
Ukrainian grasslands and steppes – in their natural condition – disappear almost as fast as forests, if not quicker, even though this process draws less public attention. Trees planted in such ecosystems can rapidly spread, turning steppes into sparse forests or something like savannas. As a result, rare species dependent on natural grassland and steppe conditions go extinct.
A vivid example of adding trees to a steppe landscape is the Dzharylhach island. Formerly, the island’s landscape was exclusively steppe. Still, during the period of the Soviet Union, numerous areas of Dzharylhach were planted with silverberry (oleaster), which is a cross between a shrub and a little tree. Since then, silverberry has been spreading through the island, which can drastically change the steppe ecosystems of Dzharylhach in the long run.
The best alternative, in this case, is planting trees in areas that once were deforested with the view of turning them into agricultural lands. However, all the actions must be discussed with the landowner and approved by them. If the owner’s plans for the ground do not include any forest stands, you may end up with a field of stumps in the future.
The third option: planting trees in cities and villages.
Greenery in cities clears the air, lowers surface and air temperatures, and even calms us down, but with that being said, it often disappears because of infrastructure projects. In addition, cities and villages are ecosystems that can hardly be called natural, and this is why planting trees within their boundaries poses virtually zero threat to nature. Perhaps, this variant is the most efficient and safe one.
Another critical question: which sorts of trees to plant, and how?
When we talk of a wrong approach to the plantation, a case in point is opting for red oak saplings and black locust saplings. Both species are considered invasive in our conditions.
It means they did not grow on the territory of Ukraine in the past but were brought here by humans. In Ukraine, these species have much fewer natural enemies than in their native habitats, and they are adopted to poor growing conditions far better than some of our native species. As a result of this invasion, our native trees are being supplanted by black locusts as they spread rapidly in our country’s forests and other natural ecosystems.
Therefore, it is worth using only local (indigenous) species when planting trees within borders of natural ecosystems. Some of the most invasive species that should be avoided are red oak (Quercus rubra), black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), boxelder maple (Acer negundo), and so on.
Yet another matter that must be taken seriously is choosing a local tree species.
Every species has its environmental requirements. For instance, pines like the light, while spruces are rather shade-loving. Alder tree prevails in wet areas. Small oaks do not tolerate shade and possible competition with more shade-loving trees.
All these requirements must be considered while deciding on tree species to plant. Once a place is located, you should consult a specialist. They will help you select the suitable tree species and the right season for plantation.
You should also remember about taking care of trees after the plantation: artificial forest stands are very dependent on care in the first few years of their lifecycle.
Young trees die off when overshadowed by bushes and high grass. In later stages, excessive tree density makes them vulnerable. Therefore, it is better not to plant trees if taking care of them for at least 10 years after the plantation is something you cannot guarantee.
To conclude, there are many nuances in planting trees. If they are not taken into account, all the efforts spent will be to wain. And in the worst case, they will even do nature harm. In addition, there are other ways to help the environment too.
For instance, Ukrainian national parks and different non-governmental organizations offer various volunteering opportunities for concerned citizens who want to help protect the environment.
Volunteers, together with experts, count rare animals and plants, help fight forest fires or poachers, mark tourist routes, and suchlike.
Offer your help to a nearby National Park — this can be much more useful than planting trees!
A special focus should be put on considerable areas of so-called self-sown forests in Ukraine.
These forests were created on lands used for agricultural purposes in the past. Often it is an excellent 15 to 20 years old natural pine or birch forest that perfectly grows on its own, without any care provided by humans. Usually, farmers or agribusiness holding companies rent such abandoned fields and destroy self-sown forests, since they are agricultural lands in the legal sense. If your financial capacity allows you to rent land with a self-sown forest growing on it, you can consider this option. Later, after opening the land market in Ukraine, you can buy it. Thus, you will have your forest with thousands of healthy and valuable trees!
Yegor Hrynyk, forestry expert.