@reddmonitor has a great post summarizing a number of recent articles about "plant for the planet," which raise a host of interesting questions about the potential for tree planting & forest restoration to serve lofty goals. redd-monitor.org/2021/01/11/pla…
I got involved in this because I've done fieldwork in the area where Plant for the Planet's Mexican forests are. I was last there in 2015, so around the same time Plant for the Planet got started there. I can't report direct observations.
Much of @reddmonitor's post is a summary of an excellent piece of journalism by @herrfischer and @hannahknuth which you can read in the original German (or using a translator) here. zeit.de/2020/53/plant-…
Some context. The Yucatan peninsula contains one of the largest and most stable tropical forests in the Americas outside of the Amazon basin. As we've shown, these forests are there in part because of a strong community-based political infrastructure doi.org/10.1016/j.gloe…
But they are threatened by expansion of commodity-based agriculture and destruction of community-based land tenure systems doi.org/10.1016/j.land…
To say that these forests are resilient is to put it lightly - nearly all the forests of the region are regrowth following the collapse of the classic Maya cities 1000 years ago. People continue to practice shifting cultivation in this region.
Its puzzling why you'd focus a tree planting program in a place where forest cover is high and relatively stable, and forests are demonstrably resilient to many kinds of common disturbances.
And even more puzzling, when you discover from reading the excellent work of these journalists that the plots where most of the "plant for the planet" plantings are taking place are... already forested!
Many farmers we've interviewed in this region have mentioned struggling to reforest pastures once they establish them, and many commercially valuable timber species (e.g. mahogany, spanish cedar, siricote) have become scarce after decades of selective logging...
So there is potential to engage in useful tree planting and reforestation interventions - working with farmers to restore unproductive pasture lands to forest, helping communities develop sustainable timber enterprises by replanting valuable species in their forests.
But it doesn't seem that Plant for the Planet does this. Instead, it seems they bought their own land and started planting commercially valuable species with funding from Europe.
It reads more like a land investment scheme than a charitable program, although again, I haven't visited the place. I did meet the founder, and he seems well intentioned, so I'd like to hope that they can improve.
Still some of the founders' quotes were disturbing to me. In particular, he seemed dismissive of the value of the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, calling it a "paper park."
I've studied and published about the Calakmul Reserve, and my wife has been studying there for ~15 years. Its not a paper park. Its a park that has been highly influential on local and regional policy and has been successful by many measures.
Its apparent from this article that Plant for the Planet has not built a strong relationship with the reserve, or with other community and regional authorities, in spite of the fact that it is these authorities that are primarily responsible for conservation in the region.
The whole story - a charismatic European bringing large investments into a developing country for their own priorities while ignoring the well-documented successes of the local community - is sadly all too familiar.
Again, I think that there is potential for tree planting and forest restoration programs in this region to be valuable - helping communities and individuals improve their well-being and contributing to conservation.
But this can only be done if outsiders come in with respect for the knowledge and experience of local people, and work to support their goals, rather than imposing their own external framework.
I hope Plant for the Planet - and the many similar efforts - can reorient themselves towards these practices. Without them, their efforts and the good intentions of many people who naively invest in tree planting will be wasted.

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More from @ForrestFleisch1

12 Jan
When the lofty goals of forest landscape restoration are put into practice, the rhetoric is replaced by a focus on planting trees, often in places where they don't belong. link.springer.com/article/10.100…
I've had a bunch of arguments with FLR advocates about this. Mostly, they boil down to a believe on the part of FLR advocates that their complex science-based prescriptions will be translated into careful on-the-ground action.
My own observations from S. Asia have always led me to be skeptical of this. Here are a set of similar cases from Africa.
Read 6 tweets
16 Sep 20
These days everyone seems to thinks that "planting trees" is an important solution to the climate crisis. They're mostly wrong, and in this paper we explain why. Instead of planting trees, we need to talk about people managing landscapes. 1/x academic.oup.com/bioscience/adv…
We highlight 10 pitfalls of tree planting, and discuss how a focus on people who manage landscapes will work. 2/x
The first pitfall is that it is ecosystems, not tree planting campaigns, that capture and store carbon. Tree planting campaigns have high failure rates, and many ecosystems with sparse tree cover store large amounts of carbon below the ground - e.g. see onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.11… 3
Read 22 tweets

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