Guest post: It’s time to get serious about planting trees.

AIR Adventures is excited to announce that it will be featuring a series of guest articles throughout the year, penned by leaders in global conservation efforts. Our first guest blogger is none other than Dr. Anne Hallum, the President and Founder of the Alliance for International Reforestation (AIR). Under her leadership, AIR has planted nearly 5 million trees in some of the most heavily deforested parts of Central America. In this piece, Anne writes about some alarming recent trends in climate change – and our best solution for addressing them.

Dr. Anne Hallum with farmers, in a community tree nursery they have built with training and support from the Alliance for International Reforestation (AIR).

It’s Time to Get Serious about Planting Trees

By Anne M. Hallum

Founding President, Alliance for International Reforestation


Chances are, most of you reading this blog entry are already aware of climate change and the impacts that is already having on our land and weather. Did you know, though, that climate change is actually accelerating? Just this month, NASA, NOAA and JMA released data for 2016 showing that for the third year in a row, Earth has had the warmest year on record. Scientists attribute the accelerations in climate change to two key factors:

  1. The ongoing persistence of fossil fuel emissions; and
  2. What scientists refer to as “feedback loops”: vicious cycles that accelerate warming trends. One example is ice melt: because ice is light colored and reflective, it bounces back most of the sun’s rays, limiting warming. As more ice melts, however, it reveals darker colored water or earth below – which actually absorbs more of the sun’s rays, and contributes to faster warming, which in turn leads to faster ice melt.

The implications of these trends are significant: Just last fall, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) of the United Nations reported that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere reached the milestone of 400 parts per million on a global average for the year 2016. In regards to ice melt, the most dire predictions are that coastal flooding and displacement of 150 million people will occur within decades, and increased severity of droughts, fires, and storms will continue—even if we sharply cut carbon and methane emissions today.

So at this point, one may be asking the question of what can we do? The answer is a lot, but we must act quickly, and we must think big. How so? The answer is a simple, two-pronged approach:

First, we must continue and speed our shift to solar and wind energy. Second, and just as urgently, we must plant trees to absorb current greenhouse gases already circulating in our atmosphere.

One important – and simple – strategy in tree-planting efforts is called “regenerative farming,” which involves sustainable farming techniques including terracing, and inter-planting trees with agricultural crops. Additionally, regenerative farming involves replacing chemical fertilizers with cattle manure—plowing this waste into the ground instead of releasing its potent, harmful methane.  Members of the World Agro-Forestry Centre, the Alliance for International Reforestation and other non-profits working in developing countries have been training farmers for years in sustainable farming. Now developed countries are being called upon to shift from industrialized farming that contributes to climatic problems to wide-scale sustainable farming that will sequester carbon while it feeds us. At the Paris climate talks, about 16 percent of the official participants (25 countries) pledged to promote regenerative farming. (For more information on this solution waiting in the wings, see Eric Toensmeier, The Carbon Farming Solution: A Global Toolkit of Perennial Crops and Regenerative Agriculture Practices for Climate Change Mitigation and Food Security, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2016).

Of course, planting trees through regenerative farming is not enough. We need to plant millions – billions – of trees in order to secure our future for future generations. This means planting not just on farms, but in national parks. City parks. And city blocks, as some community revitalization efforts are already doing. Your block.

Before you dismiss this as an impossible dream, I remind readers that in the United States, we have done this before: In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a works program created to give short-term jobs to 500,000 unemployed persons. This program succeeded in planting 3 billion trees in less than ten years!  The nation had been virtually deforested to build railroads, mining shafts, towns, and for “slash-and-burn” farming, as countless old photographs will show. Observant hikers in state and national parks will notice that old-growth mammoth trees are few and far between, while the majority of trees are roughly the same age—planted in the 1930s by the hard-working heroes of the CCC.  (See Jeanne Nienaber Clarke and H. Cortner, The State and Nature: Voices Heard, Voices Unheard in America’s Environmental Dialogue, pp. 141-53, Prentice Hall, 2002.)

It is important to visualize the scale of this accomplishment and to be inspired to do it again. Before the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, world athletes and officials demanded that the Chinese government do something about the debilitating carbon pollution. The UN Environmental Programme concluded that China rose to the occasion:  One of their steps was to enlist everyone from the military to school children to plant over 30 million trees and bushes in the city center . This was an impressive achievement, and the Beijing Olympics helped to change the attitudes of the Chinese government officials regarding the crisis of climate change.  However, those 30 million trees planted in China are just one percent of the 3 billion trees the CCC planted under Roosevelt’s leadership during the crisis of deforestation in the United States.

Here is some good news we should all remember: State and local governments and environmental non-profits do not have to wait for Washington—each one of us can contact our governors, state legislatures, and mayors to take the lead in combatting existing climate change. Here are some ideas:

  • Enlist university forestry programs to map areas of the state that have been stripped of trees by mining, storms, or fires and to identify the best native trees for carbon sequestration to plant in those areas. (Perfect grant opportunity!)
  • Work with environmental nonprofits, land trusts and private citizens to obtain private land not only for trails, but for reforestation. Reforesting pasture lands would be ideal.
  • Begin student programs in public schools and universities to plant 25,000 seedlings each.
  • City governments should enact strict ordinances against clear-cutting for development; or at least require mitigation of an equal or larger number of replacement trees.
  • Enlist National Guard details to reforest areas denuded by mudslides or forest fires.

We are making exciting strides towards a future of clean energy—just look at the work of Elon Musk and massive solar-power plants opening in India and China and Nevada. But trees and regenerative farming will sequester existing carbon. We have reforested our nation before, and as our planet and atmosphere are reaching critical junctures, we must do it again – and quickly!

Interested in learning more and supporting the work of the Alliance for International Reforestation? Then visit the website here or donate directly to support their efforts here!

Flashback: Trailrunning in New Zealand.

This Friday, we’re flashing back to this time last year, when the AIR Adventures team took to the trails and mountains of New Zealand, arguably one of the best spots on the planet for trail and mountain running – and Instagram opps, of course.

We were fortunate to have the opportunity to explore many parks and trails during our time on both the North and South islands – which altogether will take several blog entries to cover! This particular entry will focus on our time spent in Mount Aspiring National Park, in the Otago region of the South Island.

At roughly 355,543 hectares in area, Mount Aspiring is the third largest national park in New Zealand, and forms part of Te Wahipounamu – a designated World Heritage site. Part of the reason behind the park’s designation as a World Heritage site is the mind-boggling array of habitat it offers: UNESCO notes that millennia of glacial flows have shaped this region of New Zealand into fjords, rocky coasts, towering cliffs, aquamarine lakes, and waterfalls. This rugged, beautiful landscape is home to several rare, native bird species – including the kea, the world’s only alpine parrot (not to mention a super smart bird), as well as the critically endangered takahe, a large flightless bird.

Our adventure in Mount Aspiring kicked off with an admittedly nail-biting flight into the park on a prop plane roughly the size of a soda can. We may have held our breath the entire ~20 minute flight, but it was ok because the views were breathtaking. Our pilot expertly guided us between snow-capped peaks, pointing out notable landmarks like the Wanaka River, Lake Crucible, and Mount Dreadful during our aerial tour.

Looking down into Siberia Valley. Trying not to focus on just how far down that is.

After what ended up being an incredibly smooth landing, we packed up and headed off towards our hut in the valley. Like most other national parks in New Zealand, Mt. Aspiring offers huts as refuge for the park’s many ‘trampers’ – NZ terminology for hikers.

Word to the wise: During New Zealand’s summer (Nov – March or April), Mt. Aspiring becomes very popular. Reservations for huts should be made months in advance, to ensure you have space during your trip. Contact the NZ Department of Conservation for information about reservations.

After getting settled in to our hut for the night, we headed out for a trail run through the valley. Our destination was the famous Lake Crucible, so-named due to its bowl-like formation in the midst of two mountain slopes. We started out from the hut, crossing through an alpine valley for the first couple of miles, enjoying epic views of (the ironically named) Mount Dreadful along the way.

Heading towards Mt. Dreadful. Not to be confused with Mt. Doom, also of NZ fame.

From our jaunt in the valley, we took a sharp left to head up Crucible Track. This trail followed a cascading waterfall up the side of a mountain – and required a fair bit of hiking and scrambling to get up.

After making our way up the steep and wooded trail, we were happy to emerge into Crucible Valley, where at last we were able to glimpse the famous lake. Getting *up* to the lake itself required another steep climb up the side of the mountain – so make sure you’re wearing a solid pair of your favorite trail running/hiking shoes with excellent tread, before attempting this trek!

At the top of this last climb, we were greeted with the sight of a pristine, aquamarine lake, punctuated by small islands of melting glacier. Yellow and white flowers – harbingers of the brief summer that visits the valley – dotted the water’s edge. The water itself was clean and clear – fresh off the melt of the glacial streams that feed the lake. We were able to refill our water bottles straight from one of these streams – so we were all set for our return trip back to the hut!

Lake Crucible, nestled between two mountain passes, and fed by glacial runoff.

All told, our run to and from the lake was ~10 miles round-trip from the hut, with close to 2,000 feet of elevation gain. Check out our mapped route here.

Interested in visiting? There are several ways to get there. You can either take a plane from the nearby town of Wanaka (as we did), or travel up the Wanaka River by boat. There are also shuttle services to various hiking tracks (trails) in the park.

Fee? Permits and reservations are required to visit the park. Check the NZ Department of Conservation website for details. Dogs? No – due to the many threatened bird species in the area. Instagram photos? Yes please.

While Mount Aspiring offers much, both in terms of habitat for rare species, as well as a playground for outdoor lovers, its future is uncertain: the park has been subject to several development proposals over the years, the most recent of which is an alleged proposal to open the park to mining (the NZ government has denied this ). Conservationists argue that any development within the park – whether to build a tunnel to allow easier access to Milford Sound, or mining – would adversely affect the park habitat and wildlife, and also negatively impact ecotourism.

Interested in supporting global conservation efforts? Then visit the Alliance for International Reforestation, or donate now to help today.

Thanks for reading, and happy trails!