If you've been dreaming of earning your official treehugger badge, there's no better way to do so than by volunteering with a reforestation project. You'll get the chance to be part of a larger conservation effort, work alongside other committed volunteers and experts in the field, and spend time surrounded by so much natural beauty, it won't even feel like work!
Volunteering placements with reforestation efforts involve a number of different kinds of responsibilities, from collecting seeds to helping build and mark trails through the wilderness. Previous experience with biology or conservation projects will give you an advantage, but isn't necessarily required. What you will need is enthusiasm, love for the environment, willingness to spend extended periods of time outdoors, and plenty of sunscreen.
The best thing about working with trees and plants is that they're (almost) everywhere, so unless you've got your heart set on going to Antartica, you can find a reforestation volunteer opportunity that matches up with your geographic interests.
If you're headed somewhere tropical, be sure to plan around the seasons -- you don't want to be trying to plant trees in the middle of a monsoon! Some of the most common locations for reforestation volunteering include:
The Western Hemisphere is chock-full of places to work on reforestation and other conservation initiatives, especially in the jungles, islands, and protected areas of Central American countries like Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Guatemala.
Reforestation work is especially important in unique natural preserves like Ecuador's Galápagos and the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, which faces increasing threats from large-scale farming, ranching, logging, and climate change.
Asia / Pacific Islands
Home to some of the world's most endangered and special plant and animal species, the islands and coastlines of Southeast Asia are a vital area for reforestation programs. Top destinations include the island of Borneo, other locations throughout Malaysia and Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand. Farther south in the Pacific, New Zealand and its unique island species attract conservation experts and volunteers from all around the world.
Reforestation efforts are underway in a number of countries throughout sub-Saharan Africa, including Tanzania and Uganda. If you want to venture a bit farther afield and have more experience working with endangered species and environments, you may want to look at Madagascar, where lemur conservation projects work alongside reforestation initiatives.
Reforestation work involves more than just a trowel and a watering can, although those are important tools, too! Here are some of the ways you may be asked to help out:
It's pretty hard to start saving a forest without anything to grow it! Seed collection and care is one of the foundations of reforestation, and it's a vital part of any comprehensive conservation project. You'll collect seeds, seedlings, and saplings to help strengthen and rebuild the native flora and help care for the young plants in greenhouses or nurseries until they're ready to be introduced into the wild.
Planting / Maintenance
After the collection and babysitting, comes the planting! You'll have plenty of opportunity to get your hands dirty as you spend time out on trails and in the forest, helping reintroduce species to their habitat, and checking in on them periodically to make sure they're thriving in their new home.
Reforestation isn't just about planting -- it's also about helping protect the flora from rampaging humans with picnic baskets and hiking boots. Building trails helps direct people and keep the vegetation safe. You could help with the design and planning stage or the initial cutting of trails that don't exist yet. You might also help with physically laying out trail stakes and markers, digging and supporting drainage systems, clearing overgrowth, or marking trails with arrows and signs.
Documentation / Biomonitoring
If you're studying biology or environmental science, or you are great at taking notes, you can help with important monitoring and documentation work. You'll take pictures and measurements to record progress and track the natural recuperation of the environment. You may also work on species identification for anything from bird populations to tree diversity.
If you're volunteering within a reserve or national park or with a large organization with a permanent presence in that location, you may be provided with housing on-site, since many places offer some type of housing for staff.
Even if the organization doesn't have housing for you, it should be able to help connect you with a place to stay, especially if you're working in a remote location. If you're adventurous, you can always ask if camping is an option, though the charm might wear off after the first few weeks.
There isn't necessarily a set of requirements for volunteering with reforestation projects, but previous experience or studies in biology, trail and guide work, or environmental science will qualify you to take on more responsibilities as a volunteer.
If you don't feel completely prepared to take on the responsibilities of a project, it's best to look for something more suitable to your experience and skill set.
Health & Safety
Keep in mind that volunteering with a reforestation project means you'll be spending a significant portion of your time outside. This probably sounds really appealing to most of us, but it can also get pretty physically demanding over the long-term. Make sure you're in good physical condition and have a plan to stay healthy while you're abroad.