Zelenskyi's billion trees: an actual solution or an impossible task?
And why, in fact, the goal is only 20% of that number.
During the "Ukraine 30. Ecology" forum, President Volodymyr Zelenskyi announced he had already signed a decree on the Green Country environmental project launch.
"We've set an ambitious, but achievable goal: to increase the forest area by 1 million hectares in 10 years. To do this, we'll plant 1 billion trees in the next three years," Zelenskyi said.
The phrase literally ripped the Internet apart: the public was excited by the hard-to-comprehend number. Criticism, calculations, and words about the impossibility of achieving such an idea immediately rained down from all sides. Rubryka decided to figure it out and find out whether the task is feasible in the Ukrainian realities.
"Green country": what is this document about?
The document, however, says nothing about billions of trees and millions of hectares. It talks about the need to start implementing the environmental initiative "Large-scale afforestation of Ukraine" from 2021, which, in fact, doesn't exist yet. The Cabinet of Ministers still needs to develop this program, as well as improve the system of security, protection, and restoration of forests, stimulate forestry, conservation, and restoration of natural ecosystems. The Cabinet of Ministers has yet to come up with ways to accomplish this task, for which they are given 2 months.
Also, the government should think over a set of measures to identify land plots of state and communal ownership suitable for the creation of forests "with the aim of their further use to achieve excellent forest cover in Ukraine."
The idea of a billion trees, apparently, is becoming the slogan of the green campaign to reforest Ukraine.
Let's delve into calculations
3.04 trillion trees grow on the planet, according to the report of scientists from Yale University. Of these, 0.61 trillion is in the temperate climate, where Ukraine is located. It is also known that more than 15 billion trees are cut down on the planet every year, but during this time, 5 billion trees grow naturally. A billion trees figure now looks more realistic, although it is known that more trees still grow in tropical and subtropical forests.
A billion trees in 3 years mean 333.3 million trees per year, about 27.8 million per month, 926 thousand per day, 38.6 thousand per hour, 643 per minute, or more than 10 trees per second. It's worth mentioning that it's impossible to plant trees all year round, and even more so, around the clock, as a rule, all planting manipulations are carried out in the spring.
How were trees planted this spring?
This spring, according to the Kyiv regional forestry department, more than 11 million seedlings were planted in the Kyiv region. Within a few months, 1540 hectares of forest crops were recreated by the hands of foresters, which is more than 11 million trees, so the plan for the spring forest planting (1260 hectares) was exceeded. It is also known that the foresters of the Vinnytsia region this spring gathered to plant 5 million trees, and the foresters of the Zhytomyr region reached the mark of 20 million new seedlings last spring.
To support forest cultivation work in 2021, 231.9 million seedlings were grown in forest nurseries, including 3.46 million seedlings of the main forest-forming species with a closed root system. In addition, 3.55 million seedlings were grown for the needs of landscaping and 140 thousand rooted cuttings. Such indicators can be called Stakhanovite since the forestry agency explains: all plans were over-fulfilled by 110-115%. But even such results won't be enough to achieve the result that Zelenskyi announced. We remember that a billion trees in 3 years are 333.3 million seedlings per year.
10 seconds per tree is not a joke
Planting a tree in less than 10 seconds certainly sounds unconvincing. For those who've done this at their country house or in the courtyard of their house, even more so. But only a few people think that by "trees" one means not a one and a half meter sapling, but seedlings, small plants 15-20 centimeters high, which have just begun to form a root system and can be planted like tomatoes: straight from containers into tiny holes in the ground.
This planting has long been mechanized and is used all over the world, including in Ukraine. A tractor walking on the ground makes a furrow, into which a forester, in a special trailer, plants seedlings. Two more workers assist the steckling process, which, as you can see in the video, takes even less than 10 seconds.
Moreover, the option described above is not the most advanced one. Sometimes mechanized tree planting doesn't require more than one person at all, since even the process of feeding seedlings is automated in some models.
You can go even further and look into the future. Drones may soon be used to plant trees in Ukraine. This idea has already been implemented by the Canadian startup Flash Forest: only three heavy drones are involved in the forest planting process. The first shoots out the already germinated seeds from a small air gun. The second drone sprays nitrogen, fertilizer, and other nutrients to keep the seeds from dying. The third drone will have to perform the function of a forester: once a week, it will fly over plantings and "monitor" the growth of trees.
In this way, Flash Forest can plant 10,000 to 20,000 seeds per day. The startup's management hopes that in the future, a couple of pilots will be able to plant up to 100,000 trees in one day.
The use of drones simultaneously reduces the cost and speeds up the process of planting trees. Each drone can replace 10 people, and each person involved in the process can fly 10 drones at the same time. Thus, the process becomes 100 times more efficient.
It's achievable, but there are questions
Ihor Kuzemko, dendrologist of the National Institute for Evolutionary Ecology, explains that the figure of a billion trees is realistic, but there are risks associated with a lack of territory and landscaping with species that can harm the environment:
"Ukraine's forestry enterprises planted, if I'm not mistaken, 280 million trees in 2020. But the question arises, where will these areas come from? Because, at first glance, it's millions of hectares. Second, it's important which trees will be planted. That is, it's one thing to use aboriginal trees, and another thing to use alien introduced trees. There was the 'Forests of Ukraine' program, and everything was exquisite on paper, but in fact, I personally saw the steppes plowed up, Robinia and red oak were planted, and they're very invasive species that cannot be planted here at all. I see a problem in this," the expert explains.
He also adds that the number of trees planted "solves nothing" because trees are important not only to plant but also to take care of, and there's a risk that in a year nothing will be left of the planted billion trees:
"It's unlikely that full-sized trees will be planted. I don't think that Ukraine has the needed quantity of planting materials, even at all nurseries, be it private or public. Will just acorns be planted, as in agricultural areas? And once or twice a year they need to be mowed at least because the weeds will simply drown them out and prevent the trees from developing even if they take root. In a year or two, the trees will still dry out without any regular supervision until they rise to at least a meter in height," the dendrologist believes.
In reality, only 20% of a billion trees will survive
The government says a billion trees is the planned number of seedlings to be planted, but not all of them will become trees. At the same "Ukraine 30" forum, Minister of Environmental Protection Roman Abramovskyi confirmed the words of dendrologist Ihor Kuzemko that only one-fifth of the billion planted trees will be left as a result:
"The main idea of the president's initiative is to increase the area of forest plantations in Ukraine. The mechanism is quite simple: about five thousand trees are planted on an area of one hectare, about 500 trees will survive during the processing of this plantation, which is, accordingly, 10% of the total. It's a mixed forest, it nearly doesn't burn. Planting pine in conditions of climatic temperature rise, moisture decrease, and increased dryness is pointless, after 50-70 years it will need to be cut, otherwise it will burn," the minister explains.
The planting of new trees will take place on new lands, and they'll try to increase the total number of forests from 15.9% to 17.9%, thus covering 100 thousand hectares of forest resources, which are now empty due to illegal deforestation or fires that have occurred there.
It turns out that Zelenskyi's initiative, although very ambitious, isn't incredible. The key thing is to approach the issue wisely and not forget about caring for freshly planted trees.