We’ve been living in the rainforest for three weeks now, and already we call it home.
Situated as we are in a seemingly vast rainforest, it is easy to forget how little of Australia is covered with this amazing ecosystem. The short drive to town is punctuated by the swift change in scenery. Dairy farms, sugar cane fields, and tiny towns fill the valley, along with small sections of rainforest called fragments. Long ago, the whole area was rainforest, but European settlers cleared most of the land for agricultural use.
Cleared land and rainforest side by side
A focus of our studies so far has been on the effects of fragmentation, which generally decreases the biodiversity and resilience of the forest within. For example, the Lumholtz’s Tree-Kangaroo, an endangered endemic species, needs more area for its habitat than most fragments can provide. We’ve visited different sections of rainforest sprinkled across the tablelands and observed firsthand the negative effects of wind, small area, and pollution.
More importantly, however, we have witnessed the community response to this problem. In the three weeks we have been here, we have worked with various restoration-oriented organizations four times. These groups are comprised mostly of local volunteers, and membership can number in the hundreds. Many hands make light work, and we’ve helped plant thousands of trees in the span of a few hours. The trees are planted strategically to expand fragments and connect them with large rainforest corridors.
Tree planting on a rainy day
One tree planting took place on a farm. The owners of the land were spearheading the move to create the corridor, generously donating their land to the effort. At a tree nursery, volunteers come in every Friday to re-pot, weed, and care for seedlings. At a restoration site along a river, the volunteers (mostly local retirees) enter neck-deep water to cut out invasive species. The people I’ve interacted with seem optimistic as they speak of the trees that will live for hundreds of years, but they’re acutely aware that the battle is only uphill.
Tree planting at the farm
I think the political climate can make one feel a bit hopeless when it comes to tackling environmental issues. But witnessing the commitment and vision the people here share for their home and the rainforest has made me hopeful again. There is a genuine spirit of camaraderie. There is work to be done, here and back home, and there are people who want to to do that work. A few days ago, I saw a tree kangaroo at a young restoration site. It’s not much, but it’s a small token of evidence that all the work counts.
A Lumholtz’s Tree Kangaroo, spotted at Peterson Creek Wildlife Corridor