Few days back, a news-piece made rounds in the media: Lahore was soon to witness execution of Johar Town’s signal-free project but prior to that at least 60 trees would be uprooted or chopped down. I had no doubt that this would result in hue and cry by the civil society. Some might even think that getting a stay order from court was the right way to handle things. There would be heated discussions on the social media. Eventually, people would move on. The government would plant saplings or trees along the newly constructed signal free corridor. But, is that enough?

This question takes me back to the summer of 2015. I was attending a class of Planting Design in Anahalt University of Applied Sciences in Germany. As I was sipping coffee and enjoying the view of a stunning vista through huge window during the class, I heard my professor chalk out the programme of ‘tagging the trees’. Surprised at the plan, I blurted out loudly, “Why would anybody want to do that?” What followed was the disbelief and shock of my classmates who looked at me with inquisitive eyes, urging me to tell, “How could I ask such a question?” My teacher explained calmly, “The trees are tagged and referenced and the data is digitized to keep the record updated. This helps in evaluation of urban forest management which is subsequently a key factor in understanding the flora and fauna of a city or town. On this basis we can study biodiversity and ecosystem. We can evaluate which plant species are native and which are invasive and/or imported. We can study how they are affecting the ecosystem and climate of a place and what future steps need to be taken to better conserve the city.”

Stunned at my own folly, I nodded. How could I have focused on the benefits of census of trees when even census for people is not carried out in time in our country? My teacher inquired if we did not follow this well-established practice of referencing and mapping the trees in our country, I said no. He added it was good for me that I was going to take some good practice of this back to Pakistan.

Tagging a tree involves collecting information about a tree and then putting a small plate on it for reference, while the data about that tree is saved in digital maps or records. Age, health, growth, shadow or canopy and other very particular characteristics of the tree are taken in account and are put in the record. The information along with its location coordinates are noted on a digital software. This can be highly useful for planning or forest department. On a later stage, this arboricultural survey is followed by studies including investigations such as which species are alive and living on a certain tree including birds, insects etc. What other mechanisms are taking place on this certain tree?

In short, you cannot have a scientific approach towards the environment of any city unless you digitize its green resources. The claims of greening a city and the slogans of conserving environment are nothing but hollow chanting unless a comprehensive scientific approach is taken in account.

Many departments and authorities are working on the beautification of Lahore. Decorating canal or watering the plants in tyre-pots may seem to be very noble causes, but they are not enough to save the city and conserve the environment. Half-heartedly planted saplings in unpleasant vertical structures are not going to make Lahore look green. The salvation lies in adopting an objective approach which is of scientific nature and which has a method that can help authorities in developing a system.

We must realise that a tree is not a mere green pillar for the ornamentation. It has its own ecosystem which is particular to that tree. If we chop it down, then planting 10 other tress or sapling in its place may still not bring back the ecosystem which was supported by that tree.

I remember fondly, how long it takes to remove a tree in Germany. The detail studies would be carried out to understand which species of birds, insects etc. lived on the particular tree. Subsequently, they slowly started moving those species to the nearby tree. The process might take up to 2 months after which the tree would be removed. It is also worth emphasizing that in many places, one tree is dependent on another tree adjacent to it. They act as a family. Thus, when we cut one tree, we take down what is home to many species. The adjacent trees take the impact and with each of these trees taken down, the city is a less conserved place which is less safe for humans as well as other species. Unfortunately, all of this goes unaccounted for because we do not document.