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HealthWiki > A Community Guide to Environmental Health > Chapter 10: Forests > Reforestation

Ancient forests (old forests that have never been cleared or seriously damaged) are increasingly rare. Once an ancient forest is gone, it will never grow back to contain the variety of plant and animal life that it had before. But secondary forests (forests that have been damaged but are growing back) can provide many of the same resources as ancient forests if they are allowed to grow and maintain biodiversity. And forests planted by people and managed well can also provide many resources to support community health.

A healthy forest takes a long time to grow, but there are things you can do to give it a good start. Controlling erosion, preparing the soil, and planting native trees or trees that are appropriate to your area will help a forest grow well. Following the natural order of tree growth in forests is another way to help produce a healthier forest (see Chapter 11).

Is planting trees always helpful?

Before beginning a community reforestation project, be sure it will meet the needs of your community and your local environment. Trees may compete with crops for limited water and land. Sometimes it is too much work to care for young trees in harsh environments. Planting trees where they cannot or will not be cared for leads to failed projects and dead trees.

If your community relies on forest products, such as timber or fruit, planting trees may be a good way to quickly bring back forest resources. If your community mainly relies on the forest for providing hunting grounds or protecting soil, air, and water, then you may benefit more by protecting areas of land from being used while trees regrow on their own.

Forests are not right for all places. Few trees grow naturally in deserts, marshes, or grasslands. If people try to plant trees in these places it may disturb the balance of plants and animals. But in other places where there are few trees, such as in cities and towns, planting trees along roads, near factories, and in parks may greatly improve the health and well-being of the community.

Who owns the land, and what are the laws?

If you want to reforest land and use its products later, be sure you will be allowed to use the forest once it is grown. Knowing who legally owns the land and getting permission before planting trees can help avoid problems later. Land that once was poor and barren will become valuable once it is covered by healthy forest. Also, some places have laws that prohibit people from cutting or using certain trees, even if they planted them themselves. Find out if there are such laws where you live.

Different trees meet different needs

The kinds of trees planted should be decided based on what people in the community need and want.

People sit together and discuss.
If we want a place to relax and enjoy...
...we should plant shade trees in a public place, like a park.
But we also want to protect our water supply...
...so we should plant slow-growing trees along rivers and around springs.
People sit together and discuss.
We need to prevent erosion...
...we can plant trees with deep roots on bare hillsides where the forest was cut down.

People sit together and discuss.

What about firewood, lumber, or animal fodder for the community?
We can plant a mix of trees on common land for everyone to use.
I would like food, medicine, and animal fodder for my family...
...so we will plant a mix of trees close to the house.
Although it may take time and patience, by using everyone’s knowledge and considering everyone’s needs, a good plan can be made for the whole community.