Reforestation - How Technology Can Help Rebuild Forests

Reforestation - How Technology Can Help Rebuild Forests

Deforestation is the clearing of forests for any number of reasons, agriculture, logging, urban expansions, and more. Reforestation is the process of planting trees where a forest once was. Afforestation, which is a lesser known process, is the act of building a forest where previously one didn’t exist.


What are some causes of deforestation:

There are more than a few causes of deforestation, and they are shared around the world. Agriculture is one of the largest contributors, as farming and ranching require large plots of land in order to sustain a society. Often, especially in the tropical rainforests of South America, an area is razed (burned) to clear it of trees, and so that the ash fertilizes the soil. Crops are planted, and when that soil loses its efficacy, they raze another area and restart the process. However most of these farmers do not attempt to replant the previous area and return it to the forest. This method is coined “slash and burn,” and is incredibly hazardous to the environment. 

Urban expansion plays another role in deforestation. As populations increase and towns and cities expand, nearby forests suffer. Often long stretches of trees are felled to create roads and other fareways. Forests are cleared for space, as well as lumber for housing. 

Not all deforestation is caused by humans, however - just most of it. Forest degradation can happen naturally from extreme drought years, natural wildfires, and other natural occurrences. It is also caused by selective logging. Loggers enter a forest to remove certain large, high-value trees, making wide roads as they can enter and leave with them. This can leave a forest with bare spots, ruined vegetation, and rough paths crisscrossing through the ground. After this treatment, a forest can die slowly, unable to return to its former condition.


Ben Hemmings, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons


Deforestation/ Forest degradation locations:

Deforestation is a worldwide problem. WWF has an amazing interactive map where you can “Explore the deforestation fronts,” and see the intensity of the issue.  This can be a problem that hits close to home - like the wildfires that rage through California. Often though, it's far away, and we cannot let this fall into the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. 

The areas in the “danger zone” are large swatches of South America - like much of the Amazon Rainforest throughout Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Columbia, and Venezuela; the areas of Indonesia, Borneo, and Cambodia; and parts of Africa, including East, West, and Central Africa, and Madagascar.

Much of the world used to be covered in forests. The National Geographic gives the worrying data that nearly 2,000 years ago, 80% of Western Europe was forested; today the figure is 34%., CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons


Why is reforestation important? 

If you don’t know why trees are important, then let me lay some knowledge on you. Trees produce oxygen, that wonderful gas in our atmosphere that we humans, and most other creatures, rely upon for life.

But that isn’t the only amazing thing they do - let's talk about CO2 for a second. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an important greenhouse gas - something that can absorb and radiate heat. It absorbs heat from the sun and radiates it around, even back to Earth. This is good, in moderation. Without this gas, our planet would be freezing. However, with too much of it, our planet retains too much heat. 

So how do we keep CO2 in check? Plants. More specifically, trees. National Forests Foundation gives us some great facts about trees and their impact on CO2 levels in our atmosphere:

  1. The average American carbon footprint is 20 tons of CO2 per year – you can offset your impact with 40 trees.
  2. In one year, 100 mature trees can remove 53 tons of carbon dioxide and 430 pounds of pollution from the atmosphere!
  3. Two trees planted will remove 1 ton of CO2 from the atmosphere over the life of those trees.


If that’s what two trees can do, then think of what impact a forest has on our planet. WWF calls forests “carbon sinks,” capable of soaking up massive amounts of carbon dioxide within our atmosphere. 

Not only are forests CO2 suckers, but they also provide food, medicine, shelter, and jobs to people around the world. One Tree Planted, a company discussed later in this article, says that: 

  • 1.6 billion people rely on forest resources for their livelihoods. 
  • 25% of all medicines can be found in forests.
  • Forests provide habitat to 80% of terrestrial biodiversity. 


Our world in data, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons


Technology that helps:

Sometimes nature needs a helping hand. And sometimes that hand is the same one that caused the problem in the first place. Irony at its finest. 

Humans are stepping up to right the wrongs of past (and current) generations by working to rebuild forests, and often with the help of technology. 




Drones and other sUAVs are being used for reforestation in several different ways. They are great for surveying large swatches of land before, during, and after the reforestation process, letting planters and scientists to monitor tree growth and other aspects. 

They are also useful for remote seeding of large areas. This can be done en mass - drones releasing many, many little seeds at a time and letting nature do the work, or it can be done one at a time. 

The company Flash Forest has created what they call seedpods, which are manufactured spheres of “water-retention additives, beneficial bacteria & fungi, minerals & nutrients, and a healthy growth medium conditioner” around a tree seed. They then use drones custom designed to deploy the seedpods beneath the soil’s surface. They can manufacture around 200,000 seedpods a day.


Wildlife monitoring equipment:

Photo Credit to Carly Batist, Ph.D


Reforesters often use the same technology as conservationists, and for the same reasons. 

Acoustic loggers:

Unfortunately, it is often necessary to monitor forests for any audible signs of illegal logging or poaching. 

Acoustic loggers help scientists monitor forest activity, both before and after they start a reforestation project. It allows them to keep track of animals and humans moving through the newly-planted and established trees. Acoustic loggers, like our beloved AudioMoth, help identify the sounds of shotguns, chainsaws, and other logging equipment. 

Camera Traps:

Camera traps are used for roughly the same reasons, to catch photos of humans and animals moving through forests. Scientists can equip the cameras with AI software that automatically identifies the species that are captured in the photos. This allows scientists to monitor biodiversity in the areas they plan to work in, or are already working in.


Genetic engineering: 


We’ve delved into the world of genetic engineering in another article, specifically with coral and algae for the restoration of coral reefs. This is similar, but instead of making stress-resistant trees, scientists are working on breeding faster-growing trees. 

In this article by published February of 2022, you can read about a California company called Living Carbon that has produced genetically modified poplar trees that can grow 1.5 times faster than the unmodified, control poplars (in a lab). Another goal for these super poplars is not only enhanced growth, but increased carbon dioxide intake. At the time of this article’s publication, the trees had been planted in an outdoor field in Oregon for a trial.  

Living Carbon used genes from pumpkins and green algae to change the poplars and assist in the photosynthesis process - more information can be found in the article. 

This article from MIT Technology Review, published a year later (June 2023) than the article, touches on the same project by Living Carbon. It goes on to say that they have planted their “photosynthesis-enhanced” poplar trees in a bottomland forest in Georgia, USA. This is the first forest in the United States to have genetically engineered trees. 



Looking at genetically engineered trees from a different angle, Oregon State University wrote an article about how scientists can prevent these transgenic trees from reproducing. You might ask why - why go through the process of making fast-growing trees just to prevent them from spreading? Scientists fear that if these transgenic could reproduce, they might take over the gene pool, overtaking natural, unaltered plant species 

In this article by Science Direct, you can see the same opinion, that genetically modified plants need to be contained, so that they do not spread and affect biodiversity in a negative way. It also gives examples of previous genetically modified trees, including “insect-resistant poplar in China, and virus-resistant papaya (Carica papaya) in the USA.”


Planting Technology: 


Not all technology used in reforestation has to be electronic in nature. Some innovations are simple, yet incredibly effective. 

Land Life Company created “The Cocoon” in 2013-2014 to help enhance seedling survival rates and growth rates. They use a 3D shape they call “the doughnut” that helps reach a 99% survival rate. Made from biodegradable, soil-enriching, hot-pressed pulp fiber, the cocoon helps protect the seedling from harsh conditions and it collects rainwater and disperses it to the tree’s roots as needed. A fitted lid helps mitigate water loss from evaporation.


Where this is happening/ongoing projects:

Reforestation needs to happen worldwide, not only for our climate and atmosphere, but for people and animals. I’m here to shed light on some of the wonderful reforestation projects happening around the world.

I’ve talked about Mossy Earth in a previous article on Conservation Technology, but I’m happy to give them more love anytime. The video above is a recent upload from them on their YouTube channel, and it shows the process they went through to purchase a large area of the Amazon Rainforest in order to work their rewilding magic.

Not only are they working to rewild areas of the Amazon rainforest left abandoned by previous farmers and ranchers, but they have made strides in other parts of the world as well. 

One project focuses on rebuilding the forests of Iceland. It is believed that long ago, 25% to 40% of Iceland was covered in forests. That is, until the time of human settlement. They cut down trees for shelter, fuel, ships, and even to clear land to graze animals. Forest cover is believed to have been reduced to less than 1% of the total land area.

They’ve begun by planting a forest of 181,816 downy birches, as well as some Tea Leaved Willow, and Aspen. When the forest is more established, they will add Rowan trees, which do better in established soil.

 Another involves foresting the Scottish Highlands where Mossy Earth is focusing on riparian woodland habitats and pinewood forests, which includes species like Scots pine, downy birch, hazel, bird cherry, willows, and alders.

Cunningchrisw, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Another project of note is the Eden Reforestation Projects - which has received recognition from Forbes in this article - which focuses on landscape restoration to restore the environment, create and maintain jobs for locals, and fight climate change. Currently they have operations in Madagascar, Mozambique, Kenya, Ethiopia, Nepal, Honduras, Brazil, and The Philippines. 

Their count shows 241,150 hectares “under management” as they call it. Their projects have helped employ over 6,000 people in their eight locations mentioned above, and other locales. 


One Tree Planted is another program that works with local communities to establish reforestation projects using seeds from local trees. Some of their ongoing projects include Rwanda, in Africa, where 20, 671 trees were grown and planted; British Columbia, Canada, where they are working to restore a forest after the 2017 Hanceville Fire; and also the Pacific Northwest, where they are working to repair riparian ecosystems to help salmon populations, and therefore the Southern Resident Orca, which is endangered.

Arbor Day Foundation plants trees all around the world, but they are focusing their efforts on five areas where reforestation can do the most good: the Amazon River Basin, the Atlantic Rainforest, Central America and the Caribbean, the American Pacific West, and the American Southeast.


A lot of these amazing projects run on donations and the generosity of volunteers. If you're interested in contributing, please check them out. Otherwise, on this Earth Day, April 22nd, 2024, go outside and hug a tree for me.  

Back to blog