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Why Plant Trees?

Or perhaps the more relevant question for our readers: Why help EcoLogic support and encourage remote villages and communities to plant trees? 

Don Diego García lives in the village of Tiak’tak, one of several communities established around a 37,500 acre forest in northwestern Guatemala. The forest is part of a half-million acre stretch that EcoLogic’s partner, the Northern Border Municipalities Alliance (MFN), hopes to establish as the Maya Chuj Biosphere Reserve. A few years ago, Don Diego volunteered for EcoLogic -sponsored training to become a “guardabosque” or forest guardian, because, as EcoLogic field technician Daniel Herrera reports, “Don Diego sees the forest disappearing and says we can’t let that happen or we will disappear, too.”

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Don Diego tends to the thousand Alder seedlings he created by cloning

In 2010 EcoLogic helped the community of Tiak’tak set up a nursery to produce tree seedlings, including Andean Alder trees (Alnus acuminata), a fast-growing species that works particularly well at higher altitudes as a companion tree to food crops. This practice, known as agroforestry, combines planting of particular tree and food species to provide multiple benefits including increased crop yields, reduced pesticide and fertilizer use, and a more biologically diverse ecosystem. In this way, the communities of the MFN have started to plant alder trees to ring the bare mountains, combat soil erosion when the rains come, and eventually seed the recovery of the mountainsides. And corn, beans and other crops are interspersed among the trees, benefiting from their leaf litter that enriches the soil, retains moisture, and suppresses weeds.

But this past year the Alder seeds collected for the Tiak’tak nursery were of inferior quality and many did not sprout. In an EcoLogic workshop Don Diego had learned how to create plants from cuttings or “clones,” and he decided to use this new technique to try to remedy the situation. He began from cuttings he took from established young alder trees, and in just four months he had amassed more than a thousand viable young seedlings. And he figured out how to do this without artificial hormone treatments or other agrochemicals which can be costly and dangerous. Don Diego has begun showing his “neighbors” – those next door and those several villages away – how to do the same. As EcoLogic field technician Antonio Chipel relates, “Don Diego is eager to share what he has learned, and we are working with him to incorporate his approach into future workshops for the guardabosques.”

This is a key facet of what EcoLogic does: We learn from our partners and collaborators, as they do from us, and we look for ways to spread the lessons we have learned together to other villages, communities, provinces and countries. It is through this collaboration that we transform the activities of individuals into an expanding mosaic of complementary effort and impact.

So whether planting trees for agroforestry, to provide a renewable source of fuel wood, or to expand a wildlife corridor or protect a running river, we try to always see the big picture, and act recognizing that it is many cumulative actions and behaviors – both human and non – that create the landscape we live in. To put it another way: we do our best to see the forest for the trees, but we also know the trees are an integral part. To restore the forests will take nature, new practices and behaviors, but it will also take the many hands of our allies, friends, collaborators, and community members who plant trees.

Won’t you help us plant those trees?