Since 2013, the United Nations (UN) has selected March 21 to be the unique day that the world thinks about the importance of trees. The U.S. Forest Service celebrates the International Day of Forests by bringing awareness about our involvement with international partners to continue to protect the health of forest worldwide.
For instance in the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean country of Lebanon, the power of one symbolic cedar tree, the image on the country’s flag, captures the promise and strength of an entire nation.
The decline of Lebanon’s forests by more than 35 percent over the last 50 years to the current rate of approximately 13 percent land cover poses potentially grave threats to national identity, water security, and rural and urban livelihoods. And climate change exacerbates the effects of deforestation, hastening desertification. As a result, the Lebanese government deemed reforestation a national priority.
The Lebanon Reforestation Initiative, a project funded by the USAID and implemented by the U.S. Forest Service, is undertaking an ambitious program of sustainable forestry practices and wildfire management in economically depressed and environmentally degraded regions of Lebanon.
After just four years the initiative has transformed not only the way native trees are grown and planted through successful community-based models, but the project has demonstrated how the entry point of landscape restoration offers significant co-benefits of rural economic development, livelihood support, and enhanced social cohesion. The project has planted more than half-a-million native tree species on more than 700 hectares throughout all regions of Lebanon.
Survival rates of planted tree seedlings have dramatically improved on average between 70-90 percent after three years, compared with a previous national average of about 25 percent.
The initiative, implemented on the ground by its Lebanese staff, offers an array of crosscutting socio-economic benefits in underserved areas and in all types of diverse sectarian communities, especially those hit hardest by the Syrian refugee crisis. Taken together, these expected benefits constitute a brighter future for Lebanon, for its forested watersheds and for the continued harmony of communities dependent upon their natural resources.