The real costs of planting a native tree in Australia.
Planting trees for koalas is a great thing. But they are no use to a koala if they die less than 2 years old, or are planted on the wrong site, or are the wrong species for their area. Koala Clancy Foundation plants trees for the future – carefully chosen species, well prepared sites, planted with supervision and protected so that they survive. 80 – 90% of our trees live past 3 years.
Costs for planting trees vary widely. But if you want your tree to have the best chance of surviving, a little investment pays off. Following is a lot of detail to explain what you’re paying for when you donate $10 to plant a tree with Koala Clancy Foundation.
There’s the cost of a seedling, which ranges from AUD $1.10 to $3.00 in Australia, depending on the species of tree, difficulty of sourcing and propogating that species, quantity ordered, timing and demand. Demand for native tree seedlings in Australia far outweighs supply, so orders have to be placed up to 9 months in advance. Some species fail at the nursery, and have to be replaced with other species at short notice.
Then there’s the real cost of transport and/or delivery of that seedling. Seedlings take up a lot of space, and can’t be stacked on top of each other. Transporting 1000+ seedlings requires a special vehicle. Most wholesale nurseries are located many kilometres out of town, and sometimes quite distant from the planting site.
Now, after spending $1.20 – $3.10 we have the baby native tree in our hands and we are on site. What comes next?
The tree needs a hole. Some groups in Australia dig the hole themselves, just before they plant. That means that every tree planter needs a hole-digging tool. A small shovel is fine for 5 or 10 trees in soft soil, but when you’re planting hundreds, or into hard soil, it’s not good enough. So factor in the cost of buying a specialised tool for each planter at $125 – $300 each. Find costs of tree planting tools here.
Digging the hole takes time, and also requires some expertise from the planter.
Another alternative is to pay an experienced, professional contractor to pre-dig the holes with a machine. This option is very cost-effective, and allows for very fast planting by inexperienced volunteers. The real cost varies from $0.60 – $1 per tree hole, depending on site difficulty and quantity (smaller jobs are more expensive per tree).
Koala Clancy Foundation organises community volunteers to plant the native trees. 30 volunteers plant ~800 trees in 2 hours, in any soil conditions. We can only do that if the holes are pre-dug by a professional.
Some groups may plant quicker, some groups may plant cheaper, but we know that our method is the best for our region, our circumstances, and for koalas: 80 – 90% of our koala trees survive past 3 years.
So now we have our beautiful indigenous tree in the ground, waving in the breeze. If we walk away now that eucalyptus tree won’t survive one night, and $1.80 – $4.10 and a lot of effort is wasted. Why? Because we are still fortunate to have wildlife in Australia, and also introduced herbivores, both wild and farmed. Rabbits and hares eat seedlings, wallabies eat seedlings, cattle and sheep eat and trample seedlings, kangaroos beat up and play with seedlings.
The seedlings have to be protected from the very first day until they are around 2 to 3 years old. Several methods are used in different circumstances. We use fencing to prohibit cattle or sheep from the entire area that is planted. Rural fencing costs $14 – $20 a metre. To completely fence a 1 hectare strip (worst case) containing 400 native trees costs $35,000 – $50,000. That’s $87.50 – $125 per tree. Best case – one long fence with a river forming the other boundary – is still $17,500, or $43.75 per tree. See some figures here.
That’s a lot, but fencing cannot be ignored. You can’t ask the farmer to remove livestock from their farm for 3 years while the trees grow – it is their livelihood, livestock keep weeds down, and a myriad of other reasons. We would never plant any trees at all if we didn’t assist with fencing. Occasionally we do find a property that has a fenced area to plant into, but that simply means that the landowner paid for it – the real cost didn’t go away, it was just borne by someone else.
This tree is getting very expensive. Let’s put that fencing cost aside for the moment and come back to it later.
But that’s not the end of the protective measures. Even with a fence the tree needs to be individually guarded against small wild animals that get through fences (eg rabbits). So the tree gets a protective sleeve – a tree guard – placed over it, held in place by two hardwood stakes. The tree guard also creates humidity and warmth, which helps the tree establish in its first few months.
So our tree is protected from browsing animals and should grow fast, right? Well, no. There’s another threat: Other plants. Weeds love disturbed soil and are often already established around the baby tree. They quickly take advantage of the perfect conditions and grow faster than our baby tree. In 3 months they can smother the tree, growing through and over the tree guard.
Good weed management is the key to successful tree planting. So, 6 to 4 weeks before we plant the same professional contractor comes out to site and spot sprays a 1 metre circle around the tree site. Weed management costs around $0.8 to $1.5 per tree. Then we wait, while the weeds die and any trace of poison disappears. Finally the site is weed-free and safe to plant.
Sometimes the weeds are more difficult to control. Right now as I write, in December, we are employing our contractor to remove a large infestation of a very invasive weed so that we can plant next June. That cost is additional to that shown above.
Tree planting at scale large enough to save our koalas is a costly, time-consuming operation. We know that every koala is worth it. But we couldn’t do it without our donors, supporters, landowners, members, staff and volunteers.
The issue of fencing.
We don’t always have to pay for fencing. Wonderful organisations like Melbourne Water pay for fencing along the waterways in their catchment. Many landowners pay for fencing themselves, and see it as their contribution to a better world. Or when they can’t do that, many landowners will provide the labour and we simply pay for the materials. So we don’t include the full real cost of fencing in our calculation – we include a small token amount in each tree cost that, if we plant enough trees, accrues to an amount that will pay for fencing in a few cases.
So our trees cost (without fencing) Total: $4.90 – $9.80ea. The average is: $7.35 We add on $2.65 fencing token to bring the total cost up to $10.
We know that not all our donors can pay the full cost of planting a tree, and we are grateful to all our donors and supporters.
But for those who are willing to pay the full real cost, we want to say a particular thankyou. Koala Clancy Foundation certify when the costs of planting a tree for the future have been paid in full by a donor.
These Trees For The Future certificates are only given to donors or organisations that donate AUD $10 per tree.
We certify that any tree certified in this way has been donated by the named organisation alone*. It has not been included in any other organisation’s tree planting tallies. It has not been “double-counted”.
Please contact our Secretary for your Trees For The Future Certificate when you make your $10 per tree donation.
*A small percentage of our sites do need expensive fencing in order to go ahead. Usually our accrued fencing token will cover it, but we may sometimes receive funding from a government grant to cover that – in this case the organisation will be declared.
All costs are correct and based on quotes and past invoices at time of writing December 2020.