The Man Who Planted Trees – CBS – (1987)

Forests are under intense pressure. The story by the French author Jean Giono published in 1953 is one of the most poetic depiction of landscape restoration that has touched feelings of so many people. The story inspired many restoration projects around the world. When read it for the first time many thought it was real. In fact, there are genuine independent reforestation projects impressively achieved by determined individuals and NGOs such as Plant a Billion and People and Reforestation in the Tropics: a Network for Research and Synthesis PARTNERS. One great example of a working conservation model is traditional community forests like the 48 Cantones of the Totonicapán, province in Guatemala where indigenous Maya Q’uiché government maintains a large protected area. Another regional organization works to reforest one of the most diverse but largely depleted Atlantic forest. Some regional organizations Such as the Aegean Forest Foundation use quite powerful fundraising methods including operation of a solar power station where the income generated is used to pay for reforestation projects which serves as carbon offset for companies that want to reduce their carbon footprint.

Watch the story of Jadav Payeng, “Forest Man” in full.

The Man Who Planted Trees artfully paints the ever changing nature of an evolving landscape along successional gradients. For instance today’s New England forests have regenerated but naturally without human assistance in a very similar manner. Harvard Forest in Petersham, MA has a set of exquisite dioramas visualizing successional stages for how landscape has changed before and after Europeans arrived. These new young forests are called second-growth forests.

For ecological restoration sometimes all needs to be done is to restore a critical species belonging to a trophic layer that has been lost. The reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone National park did just that. Wolves exerted a top down predation pressure on overpopulated herbivore numbers and released the regeneration of vegetation. This created a cascading effect allowing beavers to construct dams using the regenerating vegetation along river banks further enriching the habitat diversity and quality of the landscape by slowing hydrological flow and increasing water table.

How Wolves Change Rivers from Sustainable Human on Vimeo.

The man who planted trees also provides a good example for assisted migration, a catch phrase used by conservation ecologists to mitigate risk of local extinction in a fast changing climate by Human activities. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released results of future temperature and precipitation simulations based on four different atmospheric carbon concentrations. These scenarios are critical in assessing climate velocity and foresee whether species will be able to catch up with this speed.

By planting 130 acorns per day our charismatic protagonist appears to be helping a tree species with large seeds dependent on animals such as jays and squirrels for dispersal. This is a critical issue in places such as tropical forests where more than 80 percent of woody vegetation relies on vertebrate animals for seed dispersal. Regeneration of such forests are particularly troublesome when animal dispersers are hunted to extinction.

However there is hope and nature is full of surprises. Trees don’t move but their genes do through pollen and seeds. Studies have shown that lone seemingly isolated trees standing in pastures that have escaped clear cutting can still carry out long-distance pollination. Similarly, many tropical trees are low in density less than one conspecific per hectare. Such trees require very large pollination neighborhoods. A landmark genetic study has shown that a single tropical fig tree located in Barro Colorado Island in Panama could pollinate other trees within a whopping 632 square kilometers. Pollination distances can indeed be very large up to 160 km according to a study carried out in Namibia.

Thus, the mental image of lone trees as “living dead” is a misconception.

Restoration of tropical forests is essential for climate change mitigation and biodiversity conservation. Reforestation of large areas require huge numbers of tree seeds. Yet, in tropical forests such as Indonesia many tree species rarely produce seeds. However when these trees produce seeds they do so in huge amounts separated by time intervals over a decade. The most effective strategy for mass fruiting species is to establish a seedling bank by allowing these seeds to germinate in nursery environment. Within the last two decades there has been only two mast seeding events İn 1998 and 2010. We must prepare now to provide funding, planning, and infrastructure for the next major fruiting event. This may be an invaluable opportunity to collect sufficient seeds from many endangered tree species with recalcitrant for conservation and forest restoration.

Under the umbrella of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Equator Initiative supports the work of local and indigenous communities worldwide in creating sustainable development solutions. The Equator Prize was awarded to 20 communities in 2015 in recognition of their efforts. The short film below highlights the work of five of the recipients protecting forests around the world.



You can be the first one to leave a comment.

Leave a Comment


shared on