Water Conservation- Key to Reforestation

For most of my life I thought reforestation was an effort led by tree planting. The concept seemed straightforward; cut trees need to be replaced. Certainly this is how the timber companies do it in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. But what happens if the landscape habitat is too degraded, beyond repair for native trees to survive when planted

The forest surrounding this hut was reforested by first conserving all water on site.

Unfortunately this is a real concern today. Years of development fueled by short-term prospecting is catching up in real ways. Once balanced and thriving ecosystems are now gone, and getting them back requires uniquely appropriate measures for different climates- and there are multitudes of variability. One key factor, often overlooked by novices’ (like myself) living in arid climates with monsoon rains is water conservation.

Years after trees are removed, the soil begins to wash away. With every flooding rain, the topsoil gushes out in new rivers, leaving the land on its cyclical quest to the sea. In these rains the likelyhood of a newly planted tree surving is lowered – for both the soil and moisture are missing. In particularly dry climates with heavy seasonal rains the core strategy is reassuringly simple, even if not obvious first. And that is to catch and store every drop of water that falls on the land.

The goal should be zero water run-off. On large properties this is most efficiently created by dams, swales and berms formed strategically by machinery. The low points on the land will naturally pool the water and the purpose is to keep the water in place. Over time the conserved water will percolate down rising the water table and creating new conditions for trees to thrive.

In South India, Auroville, Revelation Forest is one such success using this approach. Dams were built on the deforested degraded land. A new pioneer tree species, silver acacia, took root. Although not originally native to the forest it was a volunteer with a life-span of 20 years during which time it prepared the soil, striking its roots deep, fixing nitrogen and shaded the ground allowing for more opportunity for native plants to grow, like they once did in their former conditions. Unsurprisingly (or) surprisingly depending on how much awe one may find in nature) the former forest canopy grew back.

Today the Revelation Forest is a testament to how simple reforestation truly is if stewarded appropriately. The power of water held within soil should never be underestimated- for it is the means to recharge both drinking wells, in addition to plant and animal biodiversity. Where a forest thrives, human life survives. -M. SOLANO

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