As I'm sure you know, every day a staggering amount of forest is lost. But you can do something about it. Tomorrow, Thursday, plant a tree with us in the Peruvian Amazon. Why tomorrow? Because it's GlobalGiving's Bonus Day, when your donation will count for more thanks to GG's matching funds.
We are grateful for your support of Camino Verde’s work. For many organizations, this season represents a slump in donor giving, meaning some tough decisions when it comes to budget. Please consider making a donation on Thursday, when it will count even more. (Donate here.)
And now on to our report from the field. This is a story about plants and the wonders they perform. And a story about biochar, which by now you know from our previous reports is an amazing technology to mitigate climate change while improving soils. It's a story I find inspiring, and I hope you will too.
The seedlings are strong and tall, and I can see satisfied faces and eager hands moving carefully to place these future giants into crates for transport. Today it’s ten species that are moving out – ten kinds of native trees of the Amazon that are as useful as they are endangered. A few are prized for their timber, and therefore under pressure from constant culling in the wild forest. Some are valued for their fruits. Others are medicinal. A couple of amazing trees are used for all of these things.
These trees were born and raised in Camino Verde’s forestry nursery at La Joya, Madre de Dios, Peru. A nursery that produces over 100 species of trees a year, it is remarkable for its diversity and for its steady output – less than two years after the nursery’s founding over 25,000 seedlings a year will find a home in future forests, replacing areas that were clearcut for agriculture, for ranching, or even for gold mining.
Another thing that makes the nursery remarkable is the fact that every seedling from here carries a small payload of something that's been called black gold: biochar. Biochar is charcoal used in agricultural soil – or a forestry nursery's substrate, as is our case.
While clearly relevant as a strategy for carbon sequestration in the soil, biochar performs a number of other small miracles as well. Its microscopic honeycomb-like structure provides ample ecosystem for beneficial microorganisms and also holds on to particles of a variety of sizes and shapes. It's this latter property that makes activated charcoal a leading ingredient in water filters. Perhaps unsurprisingly, biochar is being used more and more in remediation of polluted and degraded sites, where its particle-attracting powers can help clean out toxic contaminants.
Which brings us back to the day at the nursery. The heroes of our story, the trees leaving today will intervene in the regreening of one of the Amazon’s most acute wounds. Illegal and legal gold mining alike have radically altered the uninterrupted canopy of Madre de Dios, a region often considered to be the most significant area of intact tropical forest left in the world.
The threat of mining is unlike agriculture in that the devastation is much more permanent. Whereas a farm that goes fallow after harvest will grow back quickly in a tangle of secondary forest locally called purma, the degradation of forest landscapes wrought by mining goes deep into the subsoil. Trees are cleared, soils are dredged up and returned in a contaminated form, now carrying diesel fuel and heavy metals, especially mercury. The resulting moonscape is inhospitable to all but the hardiest of organisms, whether microbe or plant.
And so there’s something else that’s extraordinary about the seedlings leaving the nursery today. They can grow where others cannot, thanks in part to the biochar carried in their planting pots. They can work their roots into sterile and polluted soils, even into the gravel piles left behind by dredgers and pumps. These trees are expert regenerators; in addition to their other uses and benefits, they will bring back life-giving organic matter in the form of leaf litter and make the soil livable again for a variety of organisms, including the region’s astonishing diversity of birds, amphibians, insects, and mammals.
It’s a process that brings to mind the establishment of life on our planet. Before there was an oxygen-rich atmosphere enveloping the Earth, plants were working to make a stark landscape congenial to life. In addition to the oxygen we now breathe, long ago plants were enacting the conditions necessary for animals of all kinds. In the Amazon of Peru, we get to watch this process unfold once more.
It inspires optimism. The Earth can regroup, recover, regenerate. Especially if we lend it helping hand. We know the Amazon can be restored – even in our lifetime. The protagonists of this heroic process, trees are silent and seemingly immobile, yet we ignore their power at our own peril. With allies like these, capable of transforming desolation into exuberance, we stand a real chance at bringing our forests, and our planet, back from the brink.
One way we're doing more is biochar production, underway this month at the La Joya nursery – using the beautiful Adam Retorn oven that your support helped us to build (see photos below). Each batch of biochar we produce turns waste materials like sawdust and ricehulls into a thousand year carbon sink, trapping the CO2 gathered by plants over a lifetime into a form that doesn't decompose back into atmospheric carbon.
Doing it better means doing it together. Your enthusiasm for this work is what literally sustains us and allows us to continue with the labor of love of reforesting the Amazon. Thank you for your generosity in contributing – it means more trees planted, more hope seeded, a better chance for the rainforest and the people that rely on it.
Please donate tomorrow. (You can do so here.) Tell a friend – we’re stronger together.
Before signing off, I’d like to extend a special thanks to CINCIA, a research group from Wake Forest University who are our key strategic partners in bringing more trees to mined areas. They also provided us with the beautiful drone image you see at the top of this message.
All the very best from the Peruvian Amazon,
the nursery at La Joya
photos courtesy Shahrzade Ehya