There is more than one reason that we need to reforest Planet Earth. Less than a fifth of Earth’s original forests have survived the rise of humans since the last glaciation, and over half of them are in just five countries (see figure below).
The biggest effect from loss of forests is loss of habitat and the resultant loss of biodiversity, even if you don’t care about climate change. We’re burning billions of acres of pristine Indonesian rain forests to plant palm oil trees (Scientific American) just to get a cooking oil with a better shelf life.
Forest biodiversity encompasses not just trees, but the multitude of plants, animals and microorganisms that inhabit forested areas – and their associated genetic diversity. Over a billion humans depend on dense forests for their survival, although all humans depend on forests in some degree for some aspect of their lives.
Forests also are one of the biggest sinks of carbon on Earth, and losing them puts more carbon into the atmosphere and prevents more carbon from being extracted.
According to the International Panel on Climate Change, there remains only about 10 years to prevent the most catastrophic effects of global warming. In 2019, 43 billion tons of CO2 was released by humans into the atmosphere. Planting trees is currently the best way to sequester carbon. But it will take planting many, many billions of trees each year.
And we haven’t been very successful in reforestation using humans alone, it’s just too slow (see figure).
Enter Flash Forest out of Canada.
Flash Forest is a reforestation company that uses aerial mapping software, drone technology (photo at top), pneumatics, automation and ecological science to reforest areas at a rapid pace, especially areas that have been clear-cut or ravaged by wildfires.
Having the hard labor done by a drone accelerates the pace of reforestation by at least 10 times over having humans alone do the work (see video below). And two humans could potentially direct 10 of these drones, so the pace can be geometrically accelerated.
The company works with corporations, NGOs, forestry companies, universities and government agencies to maximize their efforts and reach more areas. While they’re currently refining their technology across Canada, they soon plan to expand internationally, to bring their tech to six continents.
More than just planting seeds, they plant a variety of species that are native to each location to maximize biodiversity. They prioritize planting permanent, diverse forests, instead of managed forests and monocultures.
The drones plant seed pods (see figure below) that themselves are high-tech organic wonders, full of primed seeds in a natural packet of balanced nutrients and other seedling boosters that can last months in the field.
Using such high-tech methods, Flash Forest can map out the best planting locations and plants at a density of 1,000 to 2,000 trees per hectare.
People do visit the seeded areas afterwards to check on seedlings and conditions and see how well the efforts are going.
The company aims to bring the cost down to 55¢ per tree, about a quarter of the cost of most tree restoration efforts. Initially, the company looks to plant 100,000 seed pods per day per two drone operators.
By 2028, Flash Forest plans to plant over 1 billion trees. With more support, they could do even more.