By Debbie Fluegel, Trees Forever Program Manager

You may have read recently that scientists in Switzerland have determined that in order to battle climate change, we would need to plant 1 trillion trees globally. Is that even feasible? Yes, I think it probably is; however, there has to be some thought and planning that goes into it-not just haphazardly planting trees where there is space. We want to restore our natural ecosystems, not reforest the entire world. In countries that have had massive deforestation, planting millions of trees to reforest those countries is economically, socially and culturally necessary for the country to become sustainable. Just this week it was reported in the national news, Ethiopia had broken a world record and planted 353 million tree seedlings in 12 hours to help farmers get out of poverty, as well as mitigate the effects of drought, flood, soil erosion, land degradation and climate change.

How does this translate to those of us living in the Midwest? In 2019, we aren’t facing deforestation at the same rate as the rain forests; however, initial deforestation happened in the Midwest more than 200 years ago during the time of European settlement. Today we are still losing millions of trees at an alarming rate, due to invasive pests and diseases, city development and land cleared for agricultural purposes. We’re also seeing that many of our communities are becoming a monoculture, being dominated by just a few species. By diversifying the mix of species within our community forests, we will be able to better withstand the next influx of invasive pests and diseases. Currently, there are just over 15.5 million people living in Iowa and Illinois. Imagine if every able bodied person planted one tree or helped one person who wasn’t able to plant a tree? That’s nearly 16 million trees planted in only two states! What would the United States look like if that happened in all 50 states? That’s a huge impact! Again, we aren’t planting trees everywhere we have space, we are planting the “Right Tree in the Right Place,” enhancing existing areas, not replacing our agricultural and urban areas. We are using a diverse mix of species that will help ensure resiliency against yet unknown pest and diseases and a changing climate.

Where do we plant all of these trees and how can you help?

Trees Forever is working with landowners, farmers and communities across Illinois and Iowa to plant native species along rivers and streams, on our farms and around livestock operations, on degraded and highly erodible soils, in parks, along streets, at schools, at churches, and in our yards. Planting trees larger than seedlings and having a maintenance plan in place ensures that trees have a better chance at reaching maturity to provide those numerous environmental benefits. In order to accomplish this endeavor, there has to be funding available at every level: local, state and federal. Talk to your elected officials and let them know how important trees are to you personally and to the environment. Encourage them to support the forestry departments in your state. Join your local tree board or tree committee. If there isn’t one, start one!

Develop a tree ordinance in your community and works towards achieving Tree USA status. Participate in community tree planting events. Make a tax-deductible contribution to Trees Forever, supporting the planting and care of trees. Host a neighborhood planting party. There are many ways we can all work together to accomplish planting a trillion trees.

My favorite quote is from The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” It’s going to take all of us working together to battle climate change and the simplest, most sustainable way is to PLANT A TREE!