Tree Planting with KOPEL

Tree Planting with KOPEL

KOPEL Bhd has been planting trees since 1999. This was inspired by the realisation of how highly degraded the last remaining rainforests are, in the Lower Kinabatangan. This realisation happened during the Forest Fires of 1998 following the El Nino drought of 1997-1998. Read the full story about KOPEL’s experience and forest restoration here.

After KOPEL’s initial attempts in forest restoration, it took about a year to realise the extent of the work involved, and how long and arduous the process. The shocking truth revealed was that tree planting on its own wasn’t the answer to restoring the rainforest. Even so, it is an important and sometimes unavoidable step to consider and include in the restoration process, depending on the site, the residual forest, and the nature of the degradation. Probably most surprising is that more than 75% of the work involves rebuilding a suitable habitat for infant tree species and keeping all young trees from being smothered in their first and formative years. Only when the new stand of trees forms a closed canopy maintenance efforts can be scaled back significantly.

Restoring the rainforest is a complex process with many variables. It involves understanding historically what was growing on any specific site and likewise understanding what is currently growing on these sites. In the Lower Kinabatangan floodplain there are a huge variety of ecosystems and habitats for plants and trees, with an extraordinary variety of soil types, flood levels and impacts. This diversity of habitats and ecosystems is what makes the Kinabatangan so biodiverse and so special.

Areas that were degraded by fires, for example, have had much of the biomass, seedstock, and seedbearing trees destroyed. These degraded sites are often quickly infested by fast growing plant species such as climbing bamboo, vines, sedges, and grasses that inhibit the natural regeneration of the upper canopy species. Lacking the natural shade and microclimate that comes with a multi layered closed canopy rainforest the open degraded sites areas dry out quickly and by the nature of the vegetation are extremely prone to fires even after only a short dry period. Increasingly more frequent droughts over the last 30 years have proven these degraded sites reburn easily and repeatedly and risk expanding and causing further forest loss.

Given the remaining forests along the Lower Kinabatangan are already so small and fragmented, and the remaining wildlife is squeezed into a patchwork of pocket forests and narrow corridors, we see the work of restoring the remaining forest as critical, and of the essence. Hence the imperative is to assist the degraded sites revert to their former structure and diversity in the shortest possible timeframe.

This involves an array of sciences, including restoration ecology, including the voice of local experience. The work also involves modifying the degraded environments, for example, by removing factors that inhibit natural regeneration of the trees (e.g. some creepers and vines) and adding key inputs (biomass or planting trees) to help the restoration process and natural forest succession along the way. Ideally, we work to support the natural regeneration of the rainforest, and in our case rehabilitate a closed canopy structure so vital to life in the rainforest.

So, why are we planting trees?

Trees are a vital part of any tropical rainforest. Trees provide the necessary structure and habitat, leaflitter and microclimate for a huge diversity of other plants and organisms. If this structure is simplified into layers, such as the understory, midstory and arboreal (canopy) zonations, then the arboreal canopy zonation has one of the most critical functions. The arboreal zonation is the powerhouse of the forest, where photosynthesis produces much of the physical structure, and hence habitat, alongside vital plant sugars that enrich the soil, and flowers and fruits that feed a huge diversity of organisms. Ultimately, we plant trees to accelerate the regeneration of the forest structure and recreate the arboreal zonation. This means recreating food webs and habitat for a wider diversity of pollinators and seedbearing birds and wildlife. This in turn accelerates the spread of an even wider diversity of plant species, thus enhancing forest diversity, and succession to climax forest species.

To learn more about KOPEL’s restoration policy statement read more here.

To get involved in KOPEL’s forest restoration efforts read more here.

For more information on getting involved in KOPEL’s forest restoration initiative, volunteering or setting up a school or university program with KOPEL please feel free to contact KOPEL Office at +6089551070 or visit our Contact page.