Not long ago, I received a mailing from the Arbor Day Foundation announcing their new initiative, the Time for Trees. The Arbor Day Foundation’s goal is an ambitious one: to plant a total of 100 million trees and engage five million tree planters by 2022. The Arbor Day Foundation believes that by meeting that goal, we can restore our forests, strengthen our communities, and inspire the tree planters to create a larger network of individuals dedicated to greening the planet.
The year was chosen because it will coincide with the 150th anniversary of Arbor Day. Although the goal is an ambitious one, it is certainly a fitting way for the country to celebrate Arbor Day’s birthday, and by planting trees, a way that each of us can help slow global warming.
In the letter I received from Arbor Day Foundation President Dan Lambe, he wrote: “As a valued Tree City USA community, you play an important role in the Time for Trees initiative. Each tree you plant, each person you inspire not only contributes to these critical goals; they create the large-scale impact we are seeking.”
“The initiative is being launched at a time when life’s necessities are at great risk, a time when planting trees is more important than ever. We are losing trees at an alarming rate — in our forests and in our cities — putting the very necessities of life at risk. We need trees to provide what we must have to live: clean air, clean water, and a tolerable climate,” Lambe wrote.
I thought it might be a good opportunity to talk about the benefits of trees, by listing the number of ways trees benefit each of us.
1. Trees combat climate change. Excess carbon dioxide (CO2) is building up in our atmosphere, contributing to climate change. Trees absorb CO2, removing and storing the carbon while releasing oxygen back into the air. In one year, an acre of mature trees absorbs the same amount of CO2 produced when you drive your car 26,000 miles.
2. Trees clean the air. Trees absorb odors and pollutant gases (nitrogen oxides, ammonia, sulfur dioxide and ozone) and filter particulates out of the air by trapping them in their leaves and bark.
3. Trees provide oxygen. In one year an acre of mature trees can provide enough oxygen for 18 people.
4. Trees decrease the temperature in cities. The average temperatures in Los Angeles have risen 6°F in the last 50 years as tree coverage has declined and the number of heat-absorbing roads and buildings has increased. Trees cool the city by up to 10°F, by shading our homes and streets, breaking up urban “heat islands” and releasing water
5. Trees conserve energy. Three trees placed strategically around a single-family home can cut summer air conditioning needs by up to 50 percent. By reducing the energy demand for cooling our houses, we reduce carbon dioxide and other pollution emissions from power plants.
6. Trees save water. Shade from trees slows water evaporation from thirsty lawns. Most newly planted trees need only fifteen gallons of water a week. As trees transpire, they increase atmospheric moisture.
7. Trees help prevent water pollution. Trees reduce runoff by breaking rainfall thus allowing the water to flow down the trunk and into the earth below the tree. This prevents stormwater from carrying pollutants to the ocean. When mulched, trees act like a sponge that filters this water naturally and uses it to recharge groundwater supplies.
8. Trees help prevent soil erosion. On hillsides or stream slopes, trees slow runoff and hold soil in place.
9. Trees shield children from ultra-violet rays. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. Trees reduce UV-B exposure by about 50 percent, thus providing protection to children on school campuses and playgrounds – where children spend hours outdoors.
10. Trees can provide food. For example, an apple tree can yield up to twenty bushels of fruit per year and can be planted even on a tiny urban lot. In addition to fruit for humans, trees also provide food for birds and wildlife.
11. Trees can aid in the healing process. Studies have shown that patients with views of trees out their windows heal faster and with fewer complications. Children with ADHD show fewer symptoms when they have access to nature. Studies have also shown that exposure to trees and nature aids concentration by reducing mental fatigue.
12. Trees reduce violence. Studies have shown that neighborhoods and homes that are barren are shown to have a greater incidence of violence in and out of the home than their greener counterparts. Trees and landscaping help to reduce the level of fear.
13. Trees create economic opportunities. Fruit harvested from community orchards can be sold, thus providing income. Small business opportunities in green waste management and landscaping arise when cities value mulching and its water-saving qualities. Vocational training for youth interested in green jobs is also a great way to develop economic opportunities from trees.
14. Trees are both teachers and playmates, depending upon our age. Whether as houses for children or creative and spiritual inspiration for adults, trees have provided the space for human retreat throughout the ages.
15. Trees bring diverse groups of people together. Tree plantings provide an opportunity for community involvement and empowerment that improves the quality of life in our neighborhoods. All cultures, ages, and genders have an important role to play at a tree planting or tree care event.
16. Trees add unity. Trees can be unique landmarks and give neighborhoods an identity and civic pride.
17. Trees provide a canopy and a habitat for wildlife. Sycamore and oak are among the many urban species that provide excellent urban homes for birds, bees, and squirrels.
18. Trees can mask unsightly views. Trees can mask concrete walls or parking lots, and unsightly views. They muffle sound from nearby streets and freeways, and create an eye-soothing canopy of green. Trees absorb dust and wind and reduce glare.
19. Trees provide wood. In both urban and rural areas, trees can be selectively harvested for fuel and wood products.
20. Trees increase property values. The beauty of a well-planted property and its surrounding street and neighborhood can raise property values by as much as 15 percent.
21. Trees increase business traffic. Studies show that the more trees and landscaping a business district has, the more business will flow in. A tree-lined street will also slow traffic – enough to allow the drivers to look at the store fronts instead of whizzing by.
Planting trees isn’t the only thing we can do to clean our air and water, and make the climate more livable. Nor is it the only thing we can do to begin rebuilding our communities, reduce crime, spur the economy, improve health and stir the imagination. But, it just might be the simplest thing.
In the coming months, I’ll provide additional information about the Time for Trees initiative. Next week, I’ll provide information about the upcoming tree sale sponsored by the Sidney Tree Board. In celebration of Shelby County’s Bicentennial this year, we are hoping to be able to plant 200 white oak trees within the county. Next year (2020), we will attempt to plant 200 red oak trees in celebration of Sidney’s Bicentennial celebration. You can be a part of that effort, and we’ll provide economic ways for you to participate!
The writer is the mayor of Sidney.