Earth's tree cover dwindles: What's being done to restore our forests?

Earth has 3 trillion trees – some eight times more than previously thought, according to a new ecological census. That may sound like a lot, but the planet loses some 15 billion every year to deforestation.

Rich Pedroncelli/AP/File
Vegetation grows among trees burned by the Rim Fire, near Groveland, Calif., July 25. More than 3 trillion trees now grow on Earth, more than seven times greater than scientists previously thought. But it’s also trillions fewer than there used to be, a new study concludes.

If a single tree falls in the forest does it make a sound? How about 15.3 billion of them?

That's the number of trees lost annually due to human development according to a study published in the journal Nature on Thursday. Across the globe, humans are responsible for the loss of 74,000 square miles of forest a year.

As a whole the number of  trees on a global scale is staggering, something like 3 trillion exist in the world.

But when compared with the dawn of civilization 12,000 years ago, that number represents a loss of more than 45 percent of the world’s original forest cover, according to the study’s authors.  

"That's an astronomical figure," Thomas Crowther, a researcher at Yale University that led the study told The Christian Science Monitor’s Pete Spotts. "It really highlights how big of an impact humans are having on the Earth at a global scale."

So what’s being done about this tree loss?

One of the major global efforts to replant trees is headed by the nonprofit Plant for the Planet project, based in Tutzing, Germany, which took over a massive tree planting effort from the United Nations Environment Program's Billion Tree Campaign.

The UNEP was far more successful than its stated mission in its name, however, in four years of operation the campaign planted 12 billion trees worldwide.  

Tree planting isn’t being done just to provide nice scenery. A major goal of Plant for the Planet is to increase the number of trees scrubbing carbon dioxide out of the air, hopefully cutting down the levels of a major greenhouse gas, and by extension, slowing the effects of climate change. Based on the new census, Plant for the Planet has set the ambitious goal of planting 1 trillion trees by 2020.

Local and regional governments and organizations are also finding novel ways in order to combat deforestation.

For example, a group called BioCarbon Engineering, which is led by former NASA engineer Lauren Fletcher is trying to plant a billion trees using what else? Drones.

The goal of Ms. Fletcher’s team is to use drones to combine the precision of hand planting trees with the speed and cost effectiveness of air dropping seeds. Drones are involved in the entire three-step planting method. First, using mapping software to create accurate imaging of the prospective planting area. Second, actually planting the trees. And third, going back to monitor the progress and growth of their technological handiwork.

Another organization, the nonprofit Sadhana Forest looks at how planting trees can also serve double duty in providing a valuable food source for families and communities.

In Haiti the organization used local volunteers to plant 80,000 Maya nut trees which flowered and started to produced huge quantities of nuts high in protein and other nutrients. One tree provides enough protein for a family of five.

Doug Boucher, director of the UCS Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative who authored another study on the human impact of deforestation, said every tree planted is an investment in the planet.

“Ultimately, the report shows that every euro, dollar, peso, rupee, dong, and African franc invested in these programs and policies is money well spent,” Mr.Boucher said in a press release. “The rewards far outweigh the costs.”

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