Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Reforestation in Hekla Forest
Q: What do you do if you get lost in an Icelandic forest?
A: Stand up!
From Wednesday, September 29 until Saturday, October 2nd the CELL group traveled to Hekla Forest to contribute to the reforestation of Iceland. The word "forest" has a different meaning here than elsewhere in the world. As the joke at the top insinuates, forests are very sparse and consist of fairly short vegetation. Iceland has almost reached an Easter Island status of deforestation, who cut down every last tree on the tiny Pacific island. Unlike Easter Island though, Iceland still has a chance of survival. Forests have gone from covering nearly 40% of the island at settlement in year 871, mainly concentrated around the perimeter, down to slightly over 1%. The birch woodlands were cut for timber and heating, cleared for agriculture and grazed by domestic sheep. Destruction of forests leads to uncontrollable soil erosion, which furthers the problems of deforestation. Iceland's harsh climates and regular volcanic eruptions do not favor forests much either. Therefore the afforestation goal of Iceland is ambitious and in the early stages, one that we were all anxious to get involved in.
Hekla Forest lies on a small farm near the base of Mount Hekla, Iceland's most active volcano, which was visible from the guest hut we were staying in (pictured above). We arrived during a downpour, which kept us indoors for the first day. Our hosts prepared us a bountiful lunch and we met our reforester guide, Hreinn, who gave us an in depth presentation on the reforestation efforts in Iceland. It was still raining the next morning, but I didn't mind going planting in the rain since I could try out my brand new rain boots, which I paid much more money for than I had initially calculated in the store. 7,950 krona does not equal five dollars... more like fifty! Lesson learned.
So we all hiked from the farm to the forest, got equipped with planting supplies, broke up into groups of two and ventured out into the barren landscape. One partner would have a red and green belt with six compartments to hold up to seventy five baby birch trees (left) and the other partner would have a hollow pogo-stick looking tool (pictured up top) to transplant the seedlings into the ground. Each pair would plant clusters of trees, each about 2 meters from the last, with expectations of wind and birds naturally spreading the seeds to fill in the gaps between the human-planted clusters. As a group, CELL planted 3,455 birch and rowan trees in a total of six hours over a span of two days! On the afternoon of the second day of planting, a graduate student from the University of Iceland in Reykjavik taught us how to collect birch seeds and we spent a few hours strolling through the forest squishing wet seedpods into plastic bags. Both the planting and seed collecting were very meditative activities that brought me great joy and peace. On our bus ride back to Solheimar, we stopped at several gorgeous waterfalls, a hydroelectric power plant, the ruins of an ancient viking longhouse, and one of Iceland's rare "old forests" with tall trees (pictured below).
I will be planting more trees this upcoming Sunday on 10/10/10 for 350.org day here in Solheimar. The interns here have extensively planned this global work day toward climate solutions and the CELL group is assisting in the several activities planned from 14:00 to 18:00. I will be helping Icelandic participants plant trees in the shape of the number 350, which will be photographed from above.