I liked the MOTT programs during my initial investigation as to how Exetel could offset our carbon footprint because of the holistic approach they take. That is, there is more to offsetting carbon emissions than just turning it into wood, which I hope the rest of this blog article will demonstrate.
To put that in perspective, about two years ago I flew down to Albany (my home town). Over the last 25 years farming land in that area has been progressively 'put under trees', as farmers have leased out their land for the purpose of growing trees, as a commercial crop, both for carbon credits and for eventual harvest for woodchips and pulp.
Having flown over the area as a child with my Uncle in light aircraft, I still had a clear memory of how the landscape looked from the air. So flying in on the Skywest plane it was something of a surprise to see just how much of what used to be green cattle and sheep pasture was now blue/green trees - Tasmanian blue gums I believe they are.
What really jarred however was the way the paler blue gums stood out against the patches of darker native bush. Having grown up, hiked through, camped in and driven all around the south west, those trees just looked out of place to me.
That was the first thing. The second is the impact of mono culture tree farming, and using trees that are best for the eventual harvesting purpose. As I understand it, there is essentially not much difference between a tree crop and, say, a wheat crop, just a much longer time frame between harvests.
To stop insects attacking the trees, pesticides are used. To stop 'weeds' (in this case the normal undergrowth you would expect in a forest) and reduce fire risk, herbicides are used. Like any high concentration of a single species, disease is a threat, so more sprays are used to prevent that.
All in all, the cultivation needed for commercial tree farming can only cut into the overall effectiveness of tree farming has in offsetting environmental impact. Nor can it do the native fauna much good - which are just as unwelcome on a tree farm as they hopping, pecking or jumping their way through a wheat crop.
So you can maybe see what is appealing about the Men of the Trees programs. They replant using either local native trees, or species close to it (in some cases where more salt tolerance is needed) and they use typically 15 to 20 different species in each area.
Apart from the initial spray to prepare the re-plant area (to kill off the thistle, dock and cape weed), as far as I know, no other chemicals are used from then on. The flow-on effect is not hard to imagine - native trees promote a healthy under story, making new 'havens' for native fauna, and the return of other native flora species. Once planted there is no more cultivation needed, which must make for more effective carbon offset.
Of course, it isn't a commercial crop - it is done purely for the environmental benefit. While there is no direct commercial return for the farmer, there is however almost certainly quite a few indirect benefits. Here is a brief synopsis of my own first hand experience:
- the farmer has an erosion or salt problem
- he asks MOTT to replant the affected area
- MOTT undertake the project and provide the labour and the plant stock
- the farmer does the initial preparation and, if needed, fences off the areas
- The MOTT condition for replanting is a 100 year caveat on the land
- soil degradation is stopped and reversed
- topsoil run-off is stopped
- the water table is lowered, reducing salinity
MOTT planting is done over the winter months, by MOTT staff and volunteers. This planting season, I volunteered my own and my families services to help out with the planting. For two reasons 1) as corporate sponsors (and the only Exetel staff in WA), it seemed like the appropriate thing to do, and 2) as corporate sponsors, reading about it on a web site is one thing, but seeing, and participating first hand, is what I really wanted to do.
And so, early on a rainy Wednesday morning Barbara and I roused the kids, loaded the thermos and sandwiches and headed up towards York for a MOTT arranged 'corporate planting day'.
Men of the Trees assembly area, but where are all the men?
73,000 trees as tube stock
Loading up, ready for planting.
Area prepared by the farmer for tree planting. This is about 1/8th of the total area planted on the day - 500 trees will go here.
The only thing more embarrassing than getting a tractor like this bogged, is getting your neighbors tractor bogged trying to pull it out
How to use the 'potting foot' device for planting trees - 1. Shove the sharp end into the ground (and not your foot)
How to use the 'potting foot' device for planting trees - 2. Put your foot on the lever to open the jaws and make a hole, then drop the tube stock into the, er, tube.
How to use the 'potting foot' device for planting trees - 3. Observe the tree in the perfect hole you have made
How to use the 'potting foot' device for planting trees - 4. Cave in the hole with your foot. 5. Repeat many, many times.
In five years time, what was once prime cape weed growing land will be a new little forest of native trees.
The combination of winter planting, using the potting foot tubes, very good nursery tube stock and appropriate plant selection for the area equates to an 80% or better survival rate of the planted trees.
Working the daylight hours we planted out 4,500 trees - a very satisfying days work.