Trees, more than just dollar signs

“As we destroy Earth’s forests, reefs, wetlands and other ecosystems, we light a fire to our storm barriers, our air filters, our water towers and our medicine cabinets, all at the same time.” 

Those are the words of Conservation International (CI) Global Strategies – senior vice president, Dr. Will Turner.

Have you ever wondered what our planet would look like if we had no trees? Or what the impacts of losing our forests would have on humans and animals?

There’s no denying the economic importance of trees and the reason why many humans look at trees and see dollar signs. Clearing of land for construction, timber, paper, firewood, logs and so on; these are a few reasons we cut trees, but at what cost?

According to Samoa Conservation Society (S.C.S.) Technical Officer, Christine Tuioti, whose past and current work involves much terrestrial/forest conservation, she explains that trees in general holds much more value than just its economical worth, but these values are often overlooked. 

“First and foremost, trees provide us with oxygen, that’s the most crucial importance there is,” she says.

“Trees also provide habitats for all our wildlife, they help minimize soil erosion and retain soil in our watersheds; they also provide food, firewood, shelter, shade and so on.

“Trees really are for life across the spectrum. They primarily help keep humans alive.”

Ms. Tuioti also added that Trees act as carbon sinks, meaning they absorb much of the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (both natural and human induced carbons). 

And because of the already existing excess carbon in the atmosphere, which is directly linked to climate change, the carbon sink service that trees provide us freely is extremely important now more than ever.

But with all these intrinsic values, is it so wrong to cut down trees for commercial use? Realistically, if we stop cutting down trees, our economy will suffer – on the other hand, if we cut down too many trees, our environment will suffer – there needs to be a balance.

Although sadly, dollar signs are much louder than the voice of nature and so according to satellite data, this has led to humans destroying about eight million hectares of rainforests per year.

Bringing us back to a more local setting, Samoa faces many issues due to poor management of our forests.

Ms. Tuioti explains that one major impact that’s causing Samoa much trouble, due to forest degradation, is soil erosion.

“That’s because if you see the state of our forests now, our forest cover is declining. There are fewer trees and Upolu’s watersheds are heavily degraded,” she says.

“We have seen during the past two or three cyclones, flooding is always a major issue and this is because we don’t have enough trees in our watersheds to hold the water, it just flows down freely causing floods.

“That’s why we have a flooded capital, and that’s why our hotels and our homes are underwater.”

Another growing issue, which was mentioned above, is impacts of climate change. Although Samoa and other Pacific islands aren’t responsible for even a fraction of the world’s carbon emissions, we are at the forefront of its wrath.

So what can Samoa do to help address such issues?

The Samoa government, through the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE) Forestry Division, is on the right track with their current project called the ‘Two Million Trees Campaign’.

This campaign sets out to plant two million native and fruit trees from 2015 to 2020 as a way to restore our forests and contribute to the world’s efforts to mitigate climate change.

Ms. Tuioti added that this initiative has sparked much interest within Samoa leading to many joining in to contribute to the two million trees quota.

“We need to shift people mindsets and teach them that there’s always something you can do to help our forests or help mitigate our emissions,” she said.

“It’s also great to see many tree planting initiatives from other groups such as Envirobassadors, ProGreen Samoa, Government Ministries, BSP and others who just put their hands up and become the change that world needs.

“It really is great to see that everyone is taking responsibility to help save our trees, save our rainforests, and save our environment.”

S.C.S. also initiated a Carbon Offset project where people are given the option to offset their share of carbon emissions by either paying a fee to employ others to plant trees or they can just plant their own (more details of this project can be found in an article published in yesterday’s edition of the Samoa Observer titled “Samoa’s visitors can offset carbon footprint”).

The two projects mentioned above is effective as it raises awareness in three different ways; one, it highlights the seriousness of climate change; two, it shows how trees can help mitigate this issue; and three, it tells people that you can always do something to help, even if it’s just planting your own trees in your backyard.

S.C.S will also be running their Samoa Climate Smart Rainforest Restoration Project throughout this week where 30 youths from the villages of Saleilua, Sa’aga and Poutasi, will undergo training to help manage their natural assets as Carbon Offset Champions.

The trainings, which will be held at the Togitogiga – O Le Pupu-Pue National Park and funded by U.N.D.P. small grants program, will include waste management, environmental legislation, marine and terrestrial conservation, climate change impacts, bird and tour guiding, and green livelihood options.

Aside from tree planting, the 30 participants will also work in the nurseries, work to clear invasive vines, and maintain the areas of the national park which have already been restored.

Ms. Tuioti also led the Tree Guardians Module during CI Samoa’s ‘Guardians Tausi Lou Fa’asinomaga’ campaign (campaign details can be found on Conservation International Pacific Islands Facebook page) where the children of targeted communities were taught about the importance of trees, the differences between the slow growing and more resilient native trees – to the less resilient, fast growing invasive trees, as well as tours to mangrove sites to identify the importance of our wetlands and the issues they face.

So let’s continue to do our part, plant a tree today Samoa!

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