8 Billion Trees Reforestation & Carbon Offset Projects
By Jon Chambers | Updated on August 18, 2021
By Jon Chambers | Updated on August 18, 2021
In addition to providing free tools like an ecological footprint calculator, 8 Billion Trees operates nurseries throughout the Amazon Rainforest and beyond, leading afforestation projects that are helping to combat climate change while restoring local ecosystems and conserving wildlife.
To date, we have supported the planting of over 7,678,187 trees around the globe and have funded the conservation of over 185,329 acres of existing forest. Additionally, we fund wildlife conservation efforts near the Amazon Rainforest, where we fight to save injured and displaced animals who’ve lost their tree homes.
We currently plant and conserve trees in seven different countries around the world.
While planting and conserving trees everywhere they are needed is important, we have to start somewhere. And in doing so, we have to think about where trees are needed the “most.” In order to answer this, we aim to plant in “biodiversity hotspots” that contain a large number of unique and precious species but are gravely in danger of being destroyed.
There are two factors that must be met for an area to be classified as a hotspot:
As of today, there are 35 areas defined as hot spots, making up 2.3 percent of Earth. However, this small percentage supports and provides habitat for more than half of the earth’s plant species (that aren’t found anywhere else on the planet). Furthermore, over 42 percent of all bird, mammal, amphibian, and reptile species live in these “hotspots.”
As explained in our FAQ page, planting trees goes way beyond fighting habitat destruction. It recharges the environment, helps to stabilize micro-climates for farming, prevents harmful erosion, restores water systems, and ultimately provides a new source of income for the inhabitants of less developed areas. In addition to focusing on hotspots, 8 Billion Trees also takes into account the poverty level of a given area to help determine where the greatest impact can be made.
8 Billion Trees also helps to support some groups that do not fit these criteria, but still make an incredible difference for not only the environment but the people who live in it. We always check the legitimacy of the organizations we support and have included several important resources throughout our website.
In order to ensure that our efforts are maximized for the greatest potential and that our projects’ sustainability goals are exceeded, we’re conducting climate change research in order to understand the most effective and efficient ways to restore the environment and sequester carbon in the Amazon rainforest.
One such area is the Cerrado biome. This tropical ecoregion of Brazil includes the crucial highlands, also known as the Planalto, but also consists of various types of savannas with high levels of endemism (which means that organisms are found only there… nowhere else). The vegetation contained in the area features highly complex structures, in which there is a mosaic of environments with very particular floristic compositions, in addition to presenting high biodiversity.
The Cerrado vegetation establishes a set of characteristics that range from rural to forest areas, and there are basically five types:
For each physiognomy of the Cerrado, there is a predominance of some plant species, and there is a great variation of soil types, which can be more clay rich, or sandier, or with more stones. These occur in addition to the dynamic relationship with the water cycles.
However, for carbon capture, it is interesting to note that several cerrado plants have extremely developed root structures, with only a small part of their structure exposed. Some are true underground trees!
This natural strategy is probably related to the long period without rain, according to our biologist, Eduardo, but these structures can certainly reach many meters below the ground, close to the water tables.
Much like an iceberg, when looking at a small plant that barely reached 5 meters in height, remember that it is possible that you are facing a plant with a root system that is many meters deep!
This biomass ratio above and below ground must be observed when calculating the carbon stock. Therefore, we take into account all the characteristics of the place in order to create more biologically balanced habitats, with a higher rate of natural regeneration and greater biodiversity.
Our research consists of recreating the environments exactly as they were before, monitoring the development of the plants, collecting data and recording the daily and reproductive activities of the animals.
Then, we review the data in our laboratory and perform tests to see exactly how much carbon dioxide is being removed from the restored environment.
You have probably heard stories about invasive plant species wreaking havoc in certain environments (think of kudzu, the vine that is strangling native species in the Southern United States). When a species is introduced into a foreign habitat, very often the results are disastrous.
In the past, individuals, organizations and governments deliberately introduced many of these non-native species in ignorance, thinking only of addressing an immediate problem with a fast solution, like solving mass erosion.
However, now we know better.
Introducing non-native species is terrible for maintaining the balance of ecosystems, and is especially true in reforestation efforts.
Besides not posing threats to the balance of the local ecosystem, native species are:
Using native species also allows for genetic diversity, a much-needed element in restoration initiatives.
If you have heard about forest restoration projects that failed, you will most likely find that happened because these projects did not encompass native and genetically diverse species.
But many people ask, is selecting native and different types of species enough to ensure successful restoration projects?
Until recently, restoration plans rarely favored the use of native species.1 For instance, reforestation and afforestation projects implemented between 2003 and 2007 in South America included 98% of exotic (non-native) species.2
That happened because the organizations leading the projects had limited knowledge about the characteristics and the management of native species.3 Also, many of the species planted were designed to feed industrial processes that relied on non-native trees.
Under that scheme, restoration initiatives did not exactly focus on reestablishing the health of the native forestland. Many times, the planting material was not suitable for the planting site or the project failed because the genetic base of the planting supply was not wide enough. Moreover, few reforestation projects have been able to consider how well the trees will adapt to future changes. 1
Currently, scientists emphasize the need for careful planning and execution of restoration activities, placing native species at the center of successful strategies.
But, other considerations are involved as well.
Recent research also highlights many risks associated with the use of native species, especially when selecting the correct genetic planting resources, like seeds.1
Collecting native seeds is a very important step to ensure success in a reforestation project. Seeds harvested from the same area where the planting will happen are better adapted to that environment and are more resilient, that is, they can recover from stresses more easily and fight the location’s bacteria and other threats.
The plants that germinate from these seeds also offer greater support for the local fauna (wildlife). That’s important to the overall balance of the ecosystem, because wild animals also help replenish the plant life by ‘spreading’ the seeds. 4
Genetic diversity is fundamental in reforestation efforts. It decreases the chances of inbreeding, promotes effective reproduction, and makes plants more easily adaptable to potential changes in the environment. 1
It’s important to know that genetic homogeneity leads to problems that are not always immediately clear and that accumulate over time. Many times, the impact only becomes visible when it has disrupted large areas and is therefore, more difficult to address.6
As a matter of fact, disturbances arising from low genetic diversity often accumulate in the next generation of plants that grow in the restored site. 1
In a remote area of Brazil, where the Amazon Rainforest meets the Cerrado (known as the Brazilian Savanna), 8 Billion Trees is reforesting areas within the Cantão State Park [Parque Estadual do Cantão, in Portuguese]. Deforestation in these areas started in the 1970s, well before the Park was created, and the signs of degradation persist until now.
Setting goals that are not merely quantitative, the team at 8 Billion Trees carefully plans all steps of the restoration activity, starting with the careful selection of species and collection of seeds.
Respecting traditional and scientific knowledge, the 8 Billion Trees’ team selects the most suitable species to restore the target sites. Our experienced biologist is leading studies aimed at identifying the predominant species of the local landscape, and cataloging all native species that exist and are well-adapted to that area.
For example, in the Cantão Park, repeated fires have been affecting the areas surrounding the restoration site. Only two tree species have been able to cope with these conditions. With this in mind, the restoration team determined that these two species must be the first ones to be planted in the degraded area. That is because they can serve as shields to other plants – such as fruit trees, which attract the local animal life – which can only be planted in later stages.
They do this by hand, trekking throughout the heart of the jungle and savanna formations, selecting native seeds that ensure the best restoration results. The team selects the specific germplasm that copes with the local conditions and potential future stresses.
After collecting the seeds, the team carefully prepares them for storage, ensuring that humidity levels are controlled and that the temperature does not exceed 71.5 Fahrenheit, to avoid bacteria and fungus growth.
The seeds (at present, roughly 100 thousand) are stored in a germplasm bank, which is resistant to fire and other threats. The team checks all seeds every day to ensure that all of them are healthy!
Seeds collected in any given year (say 2020) are used in the next year (2021). That ensures they will not decay, which would hamper germination and cause a decrease in quality.
When the time is right, the seeds are sown in germination beds in a nursery, which 8 Billion Trees manages.
Currently, 70,000 seedlings are growing there!
All workers receive training to care for the seedlings as if they were patients in an intensive care unit. That is because the seedlings are very fragile. For instance, their roots cannot suffer impact. If that happens, the plant may die within a few days.
Transporting the seedlings from the nursery to the planting site can also be a risky procedure, but, working together, everyone guarantees the seedlings will not be under stress.
Another common goal is to guarantee the seedlings are ready to go to the restoration site as soon as the environmental conditions allow for planting.
In the Cantão Park, planting happens in the rainy season, which usually lasts from November to early January. The rain is crucial to ensure the survival and growth of the seedlings. Moreover, native trees are adapted to the rain schedule. The planting activities also follow the lunar cycle, which significantly impacts the development of plants.
The soil in the restoration site is also constantly being improved to ensure the seedlings planted there will thrive. That is especially crucial in Cerrado areas, where the soil is very acidic and lacking in nutrients.
Carefully planning and executing these procedures, 8 Billion Trees follows all recommendations the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) sets for restoration projects:
Since non-native species can hamper both conservation and restoration efforts, 8 Billion Trees’ teams work hard to ensure only high-quality and genetically diverse native plant materials are employed in our reforestation efforts.
These factors are fundamental to ensure a functional, healthy, and resilient ecosystem.
By following these steps, we’re working hard to achieve success in planting and restoring the native rainforests in Brazil.
1Thomas, E., Jalonen, R., Gallo, L., Boshier, D., Loo, J. (2014). Introduction. In Bozzano, M., Jalonen, R., Thomas, E., Boshier, D., Gallo, L., Cavers, S., Bordács, S., Smith, P. & Loo, J. (Eds.) Genetic considerations in ecosystem restoration using native tree species. State of the World’s Forest Genetic Resources – Thematic Study. Rome, FAO and Bioversity International.
2FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). (2010). Global forest resources assessment. Main report. FAO Forestry Paper 163. Rome.
3Lamb, D. (2012). Forest restoration – the third big silvicultural challenge. J. Trop. Forest Sci., 24: 295–299.
4 Hulme, P.E. (2012). Invasive species unchecked by climate. Science, 335: 537–538.
5Vander Mijnsbrugge, K., Bischoff, A. & Smith, B. (2010). A question of origin: where and how to collect seed for ecological restoration. Basic Appl. Ecol., 11: 300–311.
6Rogers, D.L. & Montalvo, A.M. (2004). Genetically appropriate choices for plant materials to maintain biological diversity. Report to the USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region, Lakewood, CO, USA. University of California.