How Businesses Are Stepping Up to Reforest California

California is still reeling from the series of devastating wildfires that gutted its landscape — again — in the past few months.

The bureaucracy and logistics involved for helping the state recover might be complicated, but the facts for business owners and sustainability directors are simple: If you want to help California, you can!

Several big brands have already stepped up and One Tree Planted is making it easy to get involved through the Million Tree Challenge — an initiative to plant 1 million trees in California in 2019. The easy part is the $1/1 tree model. For every dollar donated, one tree will be planted. So if 500 companies commit to just $2,000 each, that’s 1 million trees that can and will be planted to support much-needed environmental restoration in the state.

California Reforestation 101

It’s not just the US Forest Service that plants trees and does environmental restoration, and it’s not just public lands that need support. At least 40 percent of California’s lands are managed by private landowners, and trees don’t really care about private/public divides when it comes to giving much-needed ecological benefit.

There are six regions and 85 seed zones in California, consisting of areas with similar climates and soils. That’s how we’re looking at what’s needed where.

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While many envision restoration efforts starting immediately after a wildfire is contained, that’s not really how it works. As the land begins recovering, local experts make assessments to determine what kind of restoration is needed where, and how soon it can be done. They’ll also place orders for seedlings far in advance of when they’ll actually be planted, because hundreds of thousands of seedlings of the right native tree varieties can’t materialize overnight!

The average time between forest fires and initiation of reforestation is roughly two years, depending on a variety of ecological and logistical details. Reforestation done in 2019 will be on the sites of forest fires that occurred within the past five years, and we’ve got our shovels ready.

Why trees?

Trees provide ecosystem services — including absorbing and sequestering carbon, cooling the temperature, creating healthy soil and oxygen, filtering water, and providing habitats for biodiversity — that are literally priceless; we are just beginning to understand them in terms of non-monetary value.

But the trees in California are disappearing fast, and not just due to wildfires. CalFire estimates mortality of 129 million trees between 2010-2017 from a combination of wildfires and infestations, a number that will greatly increase after this year. And while decades of fire suppression did result in an abundance of seedlings, shrubs and other “fuel” that makes fires more severe when combined with drought and strong winds, the answer to California’s overall tree challenge is not fewer trees, it’s more — native species of stronger and more resilient stock, planted in fire-smart ways, in appropriate locations, as soon as the land can retain water and before invasive species and weeds can set in. In essence, sensible reforestation.

Where business comes in

Companies can help by supporting reforestation projects where they’re needed and can be done at a reasonable timescale — minus the bureaucracy.

And it makes for a good CSR story, just saying.

Business partnerships have already helped to fund global reforestation projects through One Tree Planted. These include agroforestry projects in Africa, with the support of the World Resources Institute; forest fire restoration on the site of British Columbia’s Elephant Hill Wildfire of 2017; and even urban reforestation in cities such as Miami. Now, we’re focusing on California — and you have an easy in.

“Business partnerships represent a significant part of how we’re getting trees in the ground, and there’s potential to do so much more in California,” says Matt Hill, Chief Environmental Evangelist at One Tree Planted. “Some see it as Corporate Social Responsibility, but when I’m on the phone with founders and directors, I can tell they’re doing it because they care and they just want to be part of the solution.”

How we do it

The advantage of working with a network of on-the-ground partners is having the ability to plant in specific locations through many small- to medium-scale projects scattered throughout the state.

It also matters that the people involved are focusing on California’s air, water, habitats and long-term sustainability in a changing climate. And the trees aren’t just planted anywhere — it’s a thoughtful process full of planning, backed by research.

As a fast-growing 501(c)(3) non-profit with minimal overhead, One Tree Planted is agile. By being flexible to the needs of both business partners and planting partners, quickly able to allocate funds to the projects that need it most, One Tree Planted is able to fund many micro-reforestation projects that add up to create a big environmental impact.

Not only do these reforestation projects restore degraded land and habitats for an ecological benefit, but many also have direct involvement by local communities. Schools, families, local businesses, and other groups join the efforts. This helps to raise awareness about environmental issues, the complexities of California’s landscapes, and the importance of sustainability.

Together, we can plant 1 million trees

It’s going to take significant commitment, networks and funding to reforest California’s landscapes, but the movement is already in motion. Several big names have signed on to One Tree Planted’s Million Tree Challenge, including adidas, BlackRock, CIT and Facebook, along with many other dedicated partners.

There’s also a coalition of reforestation planting partners in order to get the trees in the ground. These include all of California’s Resource Conservation Districts (RCDs), CalFire, the California Native Plant Society, and many local watershed organizations that generally have the ecological wisdom and staff or volunteer support to complete projects, but simply need funding to make it happen.

The California Association of Resource Conservation Districts includes 98 RCDs that focus on supporting private landowners, who manage a significant 40 percent of California’s lands. This knowledgeable network works on conservation, restoration, education and funding for a variety of programs that focus on the health and resilience of California’s natural resources. One Tree Planted has already funded 320,000 trees planted and distributed to landowners through the RCDs in 2017 — including in El Dorado County, as part of the King Fire and Sand Fire restoration efforts.

Looking ahead to 2019, One Tree Planted has already committed to planting 100,000 trees on the site of the Mendocino Complex Fire, which burned close to a half-million acres earlier in 2018, in addition to many other projects throughout the state.

California wildfires have already consumed over 1.5 million acres in 2018, resulting in significant loss of life, property and habitats, in addition to releasing countless tons of CO2 into the atmosphere at a time when we should be sequestering it. California’s air and water quality are also compromised, which not only affects local residents but any of the rest of us who depend upon California’s vast food production capacity.

When looking at the environmental impact, we can approach the challenge in one of two ways: by debating climate change and forest management, or by focusing on restoration in the quickest and most fire-smart ways possible.

We’re going with option two — join us!

When nature thrives, we all live better and have a stronger economy. And while the immediate humanitarian needs are being met, this is the time to plan for the future. The earlier you get on board, the sooner we can make an impact together. Join the Million Tree Challenge!

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