Wednesday, 30 May 2012

On 10 April 1872 the world's first Arbor Day was held in Nebraska to launch a programme designed to reforest the Great Western Plains which had been almost totally cleared.

The first New Zealand Arbor Day was held in Greytown in the Wairapara on 3 July 1890, This year Arbor Day is celebrated on Tuesday 5th June.

Tree planting to restore our erosion prone hillsides, damaged wetlands and putrid streams is an urgent priority.

Carbon sequestration (removal from the atmosphere) and meeting the challenge to maintain our vulnerable biodiversity is another great reason for planting more trees.

The climate change debate has undoubtedly highlighted the serious environmental issues we face. It has also polarised public opinion with the debate generated often tending to focus on the extremes.

Knowledge is inconclusive about the optimum conditions or the range of tolerance to CO2 concentration of living things. What is known is that life can exist on the extremes but flourishes in optimum conditions and that different species require different optimal conditions for growth.  This is part of what makes up the 'balance of nature' and the effect of an increase of CO2 concentration on this balance is unknown.

Mitigating carbon emissions is in the national and global interest simply because the balance of nature is being threatened.

Climate change deniers need to face up to this reality and supporters need to be more active in promoting the need to plant more trees.

There is little doubt that world-wide deforestation has contributed to CO2 increasing in the atmosphere. Trees intervene in numerous natural cycles such as absorbing CO2 and plants are the only effective mechanism for removing that CO2.

Having recognised the potential for environmental catastrophe caused by increasing atmospheric carbon, governments have chosen complex economic programmes like the Emissions Trading Scheme but the effectiveness of this approach has yet to be tested. Whatever happens, the cost of the economic sanctions will eventually be born by individual consumers and communities.

Present policies may encourage planting trees for harvest. However, there is little or no government recognition or funding support for individuals, communities or organisations whose planting activities make a significant impact on mitigating carbon emissions. Funding the planting of more trees by these groups would be an efficient and cost effective way of removing excess CO2 from the atmosphere.
In addition, planting trees to offset carbon emissions will also contribute to repairing our at risk native biodiversity.

The Tiritiri Matangi project, is a great example of how a community of volunteers, through re-vegetating an island brought about a spectacular increase in the variety and number of birds and other wildlife. Our landscape both on the mainland and offshore islands is crying out for restoration.

Much has been made recently of mining on conservation land and there are real concerns over the effect such activity may have on our natural heritage. Conservation land or the 'conservation estate' as it is called comprises National Parks, reserves, domains, state forest land and other land such as our mountains makes up about 33 per cent of our total land area. As the repository of our native plant and animal heritage it needs to be protected and conserved.

But why is there not a similar outcry about the lack of protection and conservation of the remaining 67 per cent of our land? Much of this is farmland in private ownership. We know that clearing of land previously in bush and forest has caused devastating floods. We know that stock grazing in streams and wetlands hinders water flow and reduces water quality. We know that 'bridging' between isolated pockets of bush on farmland is essential for the survival of birds and other animals; also that these remnants need protection around their fringes.

Many farmers are this country's best conservationists but the reality is that protecting native biodiversity on private land with fencing, pest eradication, weed control and plant supply is expensive.

Trees for Survival was launched in 1991 as a 'national revegetation' programme with the focus on erosion control. School children were encouraged to learn about native trees, grow them and plant them on erosion prone land, reducing runoff and thereby improving water quality in streams.

The focus on children learning about native trees remains, but the reasons for planting trees have been extended to bush and wetland restoration, riparian and forest remnant plantings, while some schools have even restored populations of threatened native plants all the while these plantings have helped to improve our native biodiversity.

The  protection of our native biodiversity is not the sole preserve of the 'conservation estate'. As a country we need to place greater focus on preserving our natural heritage whether it be on public or private land.

The planting season has begun and this year Trees for Survival schools in the Auckland region aim to plant more than 70,000 trees. This is a feat which will, no doubt, be matched by other groups in their regions. So lets  plant more trees and tell everyone about it!