Couple Restores Hundreds Of Animal Species To Forest By Planting 2 Million Trees

If you plant a tree, you’ll probably find yourself feeling good about doing it. Eventually, anyone in the world will be able to enjoy a fully grown tree. They provide shade, habitat, food for animals, absorption of carbon pollution, clean oxygen for the rest of us to breathe. So it’s without question that tree planting is a noble pursuit, but one couple has gone above and beyond by planting over 2 million trees! They effectively revitalized a strip of land in Brazil that had been deforested.

Planting 2 million trees and counting

Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado and his wife Lélia Deluiz Wanick Salgado did what many would likely consider difficult, or impossible: they planted 2.7 million trees over the course of 20 years. These trees have since grown into a massive forest.

In 1994, Sebastião took over ownership of land owned by his family following an assignment documenting the genocide in Rwanda. Sebastião described himself as ‘sick’ from the traumatic events he watched unfold in that country. Adding to how sick he felt on the inside, upon returning home to his family land, he saw it ravaged by deforestation.

“The land was as sick as I was – everything was destroyed,” said Sebastião “Only about 0.5% of the land was covered in trees. Then my wife had a fabulous idea to replant this forest. And when we began to do that, then all the insects and birds and fish returned and, thanks to this increase of the trees I, too, was reborn – this was the most important moment.”

Setting to work replanting this lost forest was no easy task and one he knew he couldn’t possibly do alone. So he set about raising money and eventually founded the nonprofit organization, Instituto Terra.

For Sebastião, its not just about replanting trees, but ensuring that the forest would be planted appropriately. This includes a diverse range of native trees that were accustomed to that region of Brazil.

A native forest

You need forest with native trees, and you need to gather the seeds in the same region you plant them or the serpents and the termites won’t come,” he said.

And if you plant forests that don’t belong, the animals don’t come there and the forest is silent. We need to listen to the words of the people on the land. Nature is the earth and it is other beings and if we don’t have some kind of spiritual return to our planet, I fear that we will be compromised.

reforestation image
Image credit: Instituto Terra

Over the last 20 years, the forest replanted by Sebastião and Instituto Terra has marked some big accomplishments. One of which is the restoration of numerousplant and animals species. These include:

  • 172 different bird species
  • 33 species of mammal
  • 293 different species of plants
  • 30 different species of reptile and amphibian

The land has also benefitted from the return of the forest. They’ve noted reduced land erosion and 8 naturally-occurring springs have begun to flow again, even during periods of drought.

before and after reforestation
The land before and after reforestation. Image credit: Instituto Terra.

A spiritual connection to trees

For Sebastião, planting 2 million trees to reforest the land were ecological, but also spiritual. He has gone to great lengths to tie spirituality in with reforesting the world and fighting climate change. He believes that the people who live in the forest deserve to be heard.

“We need to listen to the words of the people on the land,” Salgado said in a meeting with religious leaders. “Nature is the earth and it is other beings and if we don’t have some kind of spiritual return to our planet, I fear that we will be compromised.”

And he has a point. There should be respect given to the indigenous people who live on the land that’s been ravaged. Their perspective can be vital to healing the land.

Planting 2 Million Trees: Could this be part of the climate change solution?

Sebastião also acknowledges the reality of climate change and the need to combat it with trees. And the science bears it out: trees have the potential to tackle the climate crisis.

One study, conducted in 2019, found that planting one trillion trees could capture a huge amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and reduce the worst effects of global warming.

This new quantitative evaluation shows [forest] restoration isn’t just one of our climate change solutions, it is overwhelmingly the top one,” Professor Tom Crowther, who led the research, told The Guardian. “What blows my mind is the scale. I thought restoration would be in the top 10, but it is overwhelmingly more powerful than all of the other climate change solutions proposed.”

Promising Research

Their research found 1.7 billion hectares of treeless land where 1.2 trillion trees could be grown. Thats an area about the size of the United States and China combined.

And what excites Crowther is the fact that to plant trees, you don’t need the approval of hostile politicians to get started. He notes that tree planting is “a climate change solution that doesn’t require President Trump to immediately start believing in climate change, or scientists to come up with technological solutions to draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.”

Crowther continues: “It is available now, it is the cheapest one possible and every one of us can get involved.” He adds that individuals can get started planting trees themselves.

And that connects well with the work of Sebastião and Lélia Deluiz Wanick Salgado. It goes to show that a couple of individuals can have an incredible impact on the environment.

If they can do it, anyone can.

Keep Reading: At 11, This Boy Runs a Successful Recycling Company


  1. “Tree planting ‘has mind-blowing potential’ to tackle climate crisis” The Guardian. Damian Carrington. Accessed January 5 2021.