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Humankind Has Halved the Number of Trees on the Planet


Humankind Has Halved the Number of Trees on the Planet

Andrea Germanos, staff writer

The good news: there are over 3 trillion trees covering the Earth—that's far higher than the 4 billion estimated just two years ago, a team of international researchers has found.

But here's the bad news: there were far more trees—46 percent more—before human civilization got hold, with an estimated 15 billion trees being lost own each year, with just 5 billion replanted.


Plant trees the way Masanobu Fukuoka would in "The One Straw Revolution".

He broadcasts small mud balls with many diverse seeds mixed in over areas devoid of vegetation. The seeds that are best adapted to the spot will sprout and grow. This way you get a diverse variety, an ecosystem that includes trees, bushes, grasses and more, giving the advantages of companion planting and organic agriculture in all its diversity.


I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

--Joyce Kilmer


I know things are different in other parts of the world, but having lived in the mid-Atlantic/Appalachian parts of the US all my life we locally have far more land area in woods than in the old days. A look at old photos from the civil war era up until the 1940s shows this very dramatically. The reason? Mostly because farming has left the area for either the Midwest or California. Even when the land use switches to suburban development, the result is far more trees and wooded areas than existed when it was all farmland. In the case of the former steel manufacturing area trees returned to many areas once the air pollution was abated. The lush slopes around Johnstown, PA were totally bare 70 years ago.


Very similar situation here in the Northern Rockies.

Old photos, taken 100 or more years ago invariably show fewer trees than now. Trees planted around homesteads and in towns account for part of it, but the main reason has been fire suppression. Fire is and always has been a natural part of the landscape here, in spite of what you may be led to believe by the mainstream "news" media's too-often sensationalized reportage of the western wildfire situation.

105 years of aggressive fire suppression since the massive fires of 1910 in North Idaho, NE Washington and NW Montana has led to unnaturally thick stands of trees, tree encroachment and colonization into what was sagebrush or grasslands, and the resultant unnatural buildup of fuels, both live standing timber, and down and dead material.

Also, like your steel manufacturing areas, areas where the ground and air were so polluted by past mining and smelting are now revegetating naturally. I'm thinking specifically of around the old smelters at Anaconda, Montana, where the copper from the mines at Butte was smelted, and at Kellogg, Idaho, where the silver and lead from the Coeur D'Alene mining district was processed.


People don't realize what a lack of conservation laws did to America. Photos from a hundred years ago and the Civil War show vast treeless areas which were once forests. The trees were huge. Virtually no old growth forest exists except in a few sparse tiny spots in the east. Everything was cut or burned away. Easterners are often amazed when they go out west say to the Pacific Northwest (now on fire) and see real old growth climax forests. Trees hundreds and even thousands of years old. Eastern forests are filled with trees that are roughly all the same size (dependent on species).

While it may look like we have more trees now, the tree farm debate notwithstanding, it isn't so. One gets the impression sometimes that people think a wooded grove in a city park qualifies as a forest simply because there are a bunch of trees.

Sigh... plant a tree and remove atmospheric carbon ...that's how it works.


Halving the trees

And we still can't see the forest


I fully agree with allowing fires to revitalize forests however I take issue with your characterization of unnaturally thick stands of trees. They may be thick from a logging point of view but not a natural point of view. One look at Olympic Nat Park and you see naturally thick (nearly impassible) forest old growth hundreds of years old. The problem with fire suppression wasn't the creation of stands of trees that were too thick but with the accumulation of underbrush. Fires would burn through the underbrush and the trees would survive but with fire suppression the underbrush accumulated so that when it caught fire it burned with such intensity that the trees were consumed as well. One only has to consider forests that contained trees that were hundreds of years old. They survived the fires for centuries.

Also man starts plenty of fires. Reports are of lightening strikes but that is an explanation used when the reason a blaze started is unknown too.


I am a bit surprised by this figure as I thought we had been a lot more destructive to our forests than this article suggests. When you see the vast areas of cleared rainforest and areas cleared for hydro electric production 46% seems small. However with the burning of carbon fuels and the loss of the forest respiration we are where we are. At the threshold of environmental collapse. God I hope the powers that be can rise above their petty squabbles and constant jockeying for advantageous positions to take financial advantage of every problem they can create. We may deserve our fate but the rest of the inhabtents of this generous planet certainly do not.


It looks like "Humankind" deserves a Darwin award.


While all you say is very true corporations are constructed and manned by humans. Social responsibility should be drummed into business school students as mantras are for the religious populations. Monsanto could make a respectable profit from developing seeds that will thrive in areas where once they didn't, or that resist disease that can ruin crops before they can be harvested. But they have chosen to attempt to monopolise the agra bis with chemical resistant strains and increasingly heavy doses of poisons. Absolutely not what any thinking moron would consider a socially viable effort.


Forgot the part about Big trees cooling with a high canopy, storing abundant water in the summer, and being fire proof.

Oops Unmentioned is the size of the trees, as though a sapling can do the same ecological work as a grandfather tree. When I was a boy in the Great Northwest the trees were older than the men. Today, if I were a tree, I would be 3/4s of the way through my Second lifetime. Trees today are cut at 40 years. Those baby trees cannot withstand forest fire, whereas in the 1950s before clearcutting was the rage, the good logging firms selectively cut at about 175 years or more.
I speak of Pacific Lumber and Southern Pacific forestry before they fired Gordon Robinson. Why let trees grow so old? Because they put on more fiber per year than baby trees, and the wood is of higher quality, and the quality of life for the animals is better as is the quality and quantity of water, not to speak of oxygen.

I cannot understand why the disastrous forest policies are not in the news. The northwest is burning up, yet... Gordon Robinson, head forester for Southern Pacific managed fire so that it increased the value of the wood and the forest for almost 30 years in fire prone California. He wrote the book: The Forest and the Trees.

Big trees do not burn, when they have bark a foot thick, and transpire tons of water a day.. into themselves, and the surrounding soil so that small creeks ran in the summertime, unlike you can find today in the plantations. And they likely have seen fire before which burnt off the dead lower branches so fires cannot 'crown'.

I love trees. I love breathing tree air. I love the way trees make soil.... and our homes. We are so very short sighted today. Alas. And Hey, if you want to see some big trees, look at the pictures my great granddad took on google:
A. W. Ericson


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Basically half. One out of two trees are gone. That's a lot. We are just shocked to see the Amazon being chopped up into fragments, that dam they want to build is even worse but we forget just how many trees we once had. The early explorers often wrote about how the forests were impassible. Easterners have no idea of what that means. Even the older growth trees there are second and even third growth. Walking through the 'woods back east' one see the remains of dry stone fences still standing among the young trees. Maybe a 100 years ago that was a farm... maybe 70 or even 50. However it has been a long, long time since that was virgin woodland. Once we had a lot now we mostly have suburban woods...lol. One out of two trees gone and everywhere you look we are swiftly losing more.

I hope that the powers that be hurry to get us off oil, coal and gas and fully integrated into solar, wind and tidal. Our one and only chance. To go solar and wind on a national scale. Every roof a solar energy provider. Every tall office building a wind turbine. Wind turbines across all those miles of monoculture croplands and alfalfa fields, a super solar powered southwestern desert. We can do it. Well we could do it... we should... who knows though?

I think we will someday when is totally unavoidable not to but by then what a horror things will have become. We could change things now but look at the repubs...it is bizarre their mindless greed.

I'm old ...old enough old anyway to know that I won't see the crunch when it comes. I am hoping that the young may have the time to change before those dire days arrive. Maybe Bernie will get elected. If he does people probably won't let the old guard come back and delay any more. Someone good will follow him and so forth. There is an expectancy in the world that some terrible thing will happen soon (a few years soon). I hope the younglings can escape that because we are truly risking the worst with this lust for greed that consumes us and the nature that sustains us.

There is a favorite book of mine. Written by Peter Mathiessen called Wildlife in America which talks about what used to be (and now too). It was awesome to read about how full of wildlife this country was as compared to now. The sheer numbers of everything was so awesome... unforgettable. Think hundreds of thousands of fur pelts per year. That was our forests where now we are excited to see a deer and a squirrel. Sorry if I am a downer but if you can find a copy of that book you will read it one sitting. It isn't a huge book but it leaves you with a better understanding of how nature was. Reading about the tonnage that fishermen used to haul in years after year is astounding. As an aside, when I was 'haired' (lol) a two pound can of salmon was cheaper than a tiny can of cat food. Salmon was that cheap. Huge salmon too. How much is salmon today? The salmon runs from california to washington have failed repeatedly. The disaster is spreading as fungus is attacking the Alaskan salmon runs. The rivers are too warm and the oceans are too warm too but the salmon get hit bad when they come to shore and head upriver to spawn. Their fry can't take the warm waters. Idaho and other states are using trucks to transport fry to cooler places in the hope of persevering the species.

I pity the young ...I honestly do. Sometimes people wonder why I am so determined in supporting Bernie. I didn't believe Obama once I saw him taking the corporate money btw. Bernie hasn't taken the oligarchy's money...that matters so much. He isn't beholden to them. I think he wants to secure a place in the history books like FDR during the depression. He wants to be a reformer. It is epic that for the first time a progressive actually stands a good chance of winning. I don't care that he isn't a perfect progressive ...he is so much more progressive that the others that it isn't even funny.

Forgive an old man his gabbiness. You hit a chord about the trees. Check out that book you'll enjoy it.

Peace and here's wishing you a nice cool shady spot under the trees...

... here at the end of the world.


Thank you for your post. You shared so many of my observations and feelings as well.

Trees are amazing beings. For so many reasons. So much diversity beauty and purpose.

I can't understand how those with the biggest mouths and so much power can be so blind. Well , yes I do...........greed.

The majesty of this earth drama, the incredible magic and complexity of it all has inspired me my entire life. Now in my 60's, I too see the desperate need for holistic thinking and immediate efforts to create a new way of doing on this planet that dispenses with the old outdated and destructive practices.


Thanks for bringing-up this wonderful pioneer! Fukuoka's vision and methods were a revelation and inspiration to many who read his work long ago. His spirit lives in my organic mixed gardens. "One Straw Revolution" is a great read for all and I highly recoment it!


Thanks for all you do and pass-on Wereflea! I too am not as young as I used to be and have seen the degradation of the natural world, Gaia, and in my own little corner. I live on 120 wooded acres and will not cut the old trees even tho am "poor". My strictly organic gardens vibrate with life and species who live with it and me and bring much joy. Local government is complicit to loss of forest and farmlands thru property taxes that force land onto the market for exploitation. Many people would conserve but cannot afford to, they must relocate and the land is often lost. Irreplaceable farmland especially is forced into "developments" of neat houses where once a farmer produced locally, but they are taxed not on what they produce, their income, but what their land 'would be worth developed". Its no wonder the oldsters who can see are so.....discouraged, infuriated, withdrawn, activist or apathetic. Where are our "leaders" who have a shred of respect or understanding of the land and wild?.........Keep the faith!


Of course, while the quantity of trees has increased, the quality has decreased due to introduced insects and diseases. The great American chestnut is gone, the American elm is gone, the oaks are just hanging in there under the assaults of the gypsy moth and oak dieback, now the white ash are gone. The eastern Hemlock - an irreplaceable key species of the Appalachian hollows and north slopes is pretty much gone below 40N and 4000 ft. This is a combined result of both the wooly adelgid and warmer winters.


I very much agree with your comments. I am also a 60's person ...lol.

We saw the world as it once was and took it all for granted, that's why it is hard to believe that some can be so greedy and so fatalistic too. They just don't care, although they will seek to build a palatial home near a national park or other wilderness for a backdrop for their vacations. We saw the abundance of the world growing up that just won't be there ever again. Never!

We saw oceans teeming with fish, streams and rivers packed with tens of thousands of fish during the salmon runs and big fish too... four and five footer salmon. We saw the redwoods before a NY hostile takeover of Pacific Lumber clear cut one of the last stretches of contiguous redwoods leaving only a few small groves for all humanity to enjoy. Two thousand year old giants turned into... lawn furniture. I kid you not.

We saw the world as it had been for our grandparents and for their grandparents going all the way back. We saw the last of the original Mother Nature of planet Earth.

Now our oceans are dying, the fish are disappearing and only jellyfish will remain. There is one third less phytoplankton in the oceans and as you might imagine, there is measurably less oxygen in the world (5% less). The North Pole is melting ... can you imagine? And some people pretend that isn't significant. How does one fake a melting north pole? How big of a sign will it take to wake people up?

And then you realize the sad truth. People do know. The people (oligarchy) who are responsible simply don't care. They want the money they make now. We could get off fossil fuels fast (everybody went solar and wind - Arizona and New Mexico the land of free air conditioning during the day.) but we aren't. We are heading up into the Arctic instead to drill for more oil which will be excess oil i.e. oil that we cannot safely use and should leave in the ground.

We saw such glorious majesty and we weren't the only ones. We didn't make the National Parks and The National Forests, an earlier generation created them because they didn't think as selfishly and as crassly and greedily as does this final generation of oligarchs who have precipitated a fatalistic direction to the anthropocene era.

I wish you well fellow 'in my 60's' person... and that cool shady spot under the trees while yet we may enjoy such blessings...

...here at the end of the world.


Leave it to Yale to pretend we've got trees coming out our ears. The total numbers of trees is unimportant. Most of those are tiny newcomers who can't take the place of triple-canopy rain forest (the lungs of the planet) which the Caterpillar company is busy dozing to the ground.

Total Biomass calculations show that Brazil's Rainforest has been decimated by the National Highway that was built right though the middle of it. I used to fly for hours over it and not see one vehicle anywhere on the way to Manaus from Miami. Now it's a tragedy.

Old-Growth Rainforests are the lungs of the planet. We are down to one lung now. We are in deep chit.