Ireland to Plant 440 Million Trees by 2040

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To do their part toward tackling the climate crisis, the Emerald Isle is undertaking a massive reforestation project.

Over the centuries, Ireland went from having an initial forest cover of 80 percent to just one percent in 1929. Ouch. Humankind has been rough on trees. According to the Agriculture and Food Development Authority, Ireland is the only country in Europe where such complete forest destruction took place.

Since then, the country has slowly been increasing its forest cover. In 2012, the National Forest Inventory (NFI) estimated that the area of forest was 731,650 hectares or 10.5 percent of the land area.

Even though Ireland's forest cover is estimated to be at its highest level in over 350 years, it still lags notably behind the European average of over 30 percent. Given the crucial role that trees play in helping to fend off the climate crisis, what's a tree-sparse country to do?

Plant more trees. Which is exactly what the country is planning to do. The Irish Times reports that 22 million trees will be planted every year over the next two decades for a total of 440 million new trees by 2040.

Climate Action Plan Proposal

In June the government published a climate action plan proposing the planting of 8,000 hectares (19,768 acres) every year, it failed to go into detail about the type and number of trees.

Now they have fleshed out some of the details, estimating the need for 2,500 conifers or 3,300 broad-leaf trees for every hectare planted, with a goal of 70 percent conifers and 30 percent broad leaves.

“The target for new forestation is approximately 22 million trees per year. Over the next 20 years, the target is to plant 440 million,” said a Department of Communications Climate Action and Environment spokeswoman.

“The climate action plan commits to delivering an expansion of forestry planting and soil management to ensure that carbon abatement from land-use is delivered over the period 2021 to 2030 and in the years beyond,” she added.

Recently a comprehensive study came out, concluding that "the restoration of trees remains among the most effective strategies for climate change mitigation." And ever since, massive tree-planting efforts have been getting special attention.

But some (including us) assert that a trillion trees is not enough – we still have to cut our carbon emissions. So it's good that Ireland's plan also includes other measures, like increasing the number of electric vehicles on the road.

Plan Criticism

The reforestation/afforestation initiative will require some land-use changes; specifically, farmers will need to designate some of their land to new trees. While they would be (and have been) compensated through forest grants, the climate action report "acknowledges a lack of enthusiasm among the farming community for forestry," notes The Times.

And believe it or not, it's not just the farmers expressing a lack of enthusiasm – a conservation non-profit is speaking up as well. The Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) takes issue with the vast new swaths of non-native Sitka spruce, arguing that out-of-place conifer forests do not provide the right habitat ingredients for native species. As well, non-native species planted in massive planting don't always fare so well.

IWT campaign officer Pádraic Fogarty told The Irish Independent, "People are not good at planting trees and trees do not like being planted. They prefer to plant themselves."

Fogarty suggests a better approach would be to pay the farmers to not plant new trees, but in fact, to plant nothing, allowing their land to rewild.

"We have a mental block about letting nature do its thing. We see a space recovered by nature and we think it's scrub and wasteland and want to get it back 'under control' whereas if we just left it alone, the forest would come back all by itself," he said.

Quite frankly, he has an excellent point; nature always knows best. But given the rate at which humans are cooking the mothership, the question is, can we allow nature the luxury of doing things at its own pace?