Thursday, July 03, 2008

Tree Planting : The Eucalyptus Angle

Eucalyptus was called the wonder tree. Indian Forest Department in the 1970s felt that they had found an ideal solution to increase forest cover. Eucalyptus grows very fast and hence, along major highways (for example, Delhi-Chandigarh) it was planted copiously. However as more information was gathered, there were facts about the eucalyptus that had not been accounted for. I picked up these two articles on the net and subsequently read a little about eucalyptus.
James Randerson, science correspondent of The Guardian on Friday December 23, 2005: “Neutralising your carbon emissions is becoming the must-do activity for the eco-conscious citizen. But now an international team of scientists has raised an unexpected objection: some tree-planting projects may, they suggest, be doing more harm than good.”
Researchers have found that planting trees to soak up carbon can have detrimental knock- on effects. "I believe we haven't thought through the consequences of this," says team-member Robert Jackson at Duke University, North Carolina, "I think the policy could backfire on us, but it will take decades to play out." Dr Jackson says the two most common plantation species are pines and eucalyptus trees. These fast-growing species rapidly suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, but they result in monoculture forests which support a meagre range of biodiversity. Dr Jackson stresses that planting trees is not a bad thing per se, but schemes that are not well thought through can turn out to be environmentally harmful.
Times of India Delhi, November 1, 2002: “There are a number of misconceptions associated with Eucalyptus trees, which is causing panic among the residents of Noida. The most serious among them is the belief that nothing grows under an Eucalyptus and that these are detrimental to the water level of an area. But is Eucalyptus really harmful to the environment as has been made out by a section of the society?”
“Well, most of these stories are actually myths. A survey had been carried out in Dehradun, which showed that about 223 varieties of plants grew under a Eucalyptus compared to a much smaller number of plants under a Sal tree. Since this species grow very fast it consumes more water. But even that does not mean that the water level of the area goes down as its roots do not go below 10 feet,” assures V.M. Arora, O.S.D. (Forest), Noida Authority. In 1853, the British planted this Australian tree for the first time in Nilgiri Hills, some of which can still be found there. “But the water level of these hill stations has not gone down nor has it hampered the growth of other plants,” adds Arora.

From Wikipedia I found the following on Eucalyptus:
Eucalyptus (From Greek, ευκάλυπτος meaning "well covered") is a diverse genus of trees (and a few shrubs), the members of which dominate the tree flora of Australia. There are more than seven hundred species of Eucalyptus, mostly native to Australia, with a very small number found in adjacent parts of New Guinea and Indonesia and one as far north as the Philippines islands.

An essential oil extracted from eucalyptus leaves contains compounds that are powerful natural disinfectants and which can be toxic in large quantities. Many Eucalyptus species have a habit of dropping entire branches off as they grow. Eucalyptus forests are littered with dead branches. On warm days vapourised eucalyptus oil rises above the bush to create the characteristic distant blue haze of the Australian landscape. Eucalyptus oil is highly flammable (trees have been known to explode and bush fires can travel easily through the oil-rich air of the tree crowns.) The dead bark and fallen branches are also flammable. Eucalyptus are the basis for several industries, such as sawmilling, pulp, charcoal and others. Several species have become invasive and are causing major problems for local ecosystems, mainly due to the absence of wildlife corridors and rotations management.

It is quite clear that native or local solutions work best. Sometimes humans in their quest for finding short term fast solutions forget the fact that nature has different designs. We humans still have to acquire a lot of knowledge in the natural process, to say things with certainty. AMEN!

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