Celebrating planet Earth

By Mike Barhorst - Contributing columnist

April is traditionally the first full month of spring, and although it has been an unusual year seasonally — the signs of spring are everywhere. The proliferation of the snow white flowers of bloodroot sprinkled about the forest floor in Tawawa Park, the mating call of our state bird, even the sound of electric saws as homeowners begin home improvement projects are all sure signs that spring has arrived.

The 2017 calendar also has two dates that help us celebrate spring’s arrival. They include Earth Day (April 22) and Arbor Day (April 28).

The first Earth Day, held on April 22, 1970, included an environmental teach-in that helped to educate Americans about environmental and conservation issues. I remember the occasion well. I was a sophomore at The Ohio State University, about to leave campus to study in Europe, and still I took time to participate in some of the activities.

Earth Day 1970 activated a bipartisan spirit that motivated the passing of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. A host of other environmental laws soon followed.

Arbor Day originated in Nebraska City, Nebraska. J. Sterling Morton, considered Arbor Day’s founder, served as Nebraska’s territorial governor and was Grover Cleveland’s Secretary of Agriculture. An estimated one million trees were planted in Nebraska on April 10, 1872, the country’s first Arbor Day.

Trees have many benefits. To help residents understand the significance of trees, I want to review why you should consider planting a tree this spring. Trees absorb carbon dioxide (CO2), removing and storing the carbon while releasing the oxygen back into the air. In one year, an acre of mature trees absorbs the amount of CO2 produced when you drive your car 26,000 miles. That same acre of trees can produce the oxygen 18 people need each year.

Trees can cool urban environments by as much as 10 F, by shading our homes and streets, breaking up urban “heat islands” and releasing water vapor into the air through their leaves. 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.

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 into streams, lakes and ultimately the ocean. On hillsides or stream slopes, trees slow runoff and hold soil in place.

Neighborhoods and homes that have an abundance of trees have far less violence than those that are barren. Trees and landscaping have also been shown to help to reduce the level of fear. 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.

Studies have shown that patients with views of trees out their windows heal faster and with less complications. Children with ADHD show fewer symptoms when they have access to nature. Exposure to trees and nature aids concentration by reducing mental fatigue.

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.

Perhaps most importantly to homeowners, a well-planted property and its surrounding street and neighborhood can raise property values by as much as 15 percent.

Unfortunately, in the past couple of years, we have lost thousands of ash trees within the city, some well over two hundred years old. On public property alone, Sidney has removed 672 ash trees since 2014. We estimate that another 400+ trees have died on city-owned property that have not yet been removed.

If you have determined that planting a tree or two on your property could be a good investment, it is time to determine where you should plant the tree. One of the things that has been taught to those of us participating in the Tree Commission Academy has been to plant the right tree in the right place.

Identify the prospective tree planting location and, if it is on city property, find out what municipal department is in charge of planting and caring for city trees. In Sidney, Street Superintendent Brian Green is one of two certified arborists who work for the city. He can be reached at 498-8159. Joyce Reier is also a certified arborist. She can be reached at 498-8117. You can ask either of them what process must be followed to receive permission to plant a tree on city property, including the tree lawn in front of your home.

When choosing a location, keep in mind soil conditions water availability, overhead wires, space available for roots (to avoid upsetting sidewalks or streets) and space available for the tree’s canopy (to avoid interfering with traffic or business signage). Planting the right tree in the right space can help you avoid costly sidewalk repairs every few years.

When selecting the tree you are going to plant, be sure to consider what the tree needs and what the planting site can provide. There are six factors to consider: temperature — trees have a limit to the cold they can endure. Check the hardiness zone before choosing a tree (Sidney is in zone 6a); moisture — each species can tolerate wet or dry conditions to a different degree; light — “shade tolerance” is the term foresters use to rate the light requirements of each species; pests — every locality has problems with a particular insect or disease. Some trees are more susceptible to certain diseases than others.; soil — soil depth, structure, pH and moisture can make the difference between success and failure with a tree. Each species has its preferences.; and air pollutants — chemicals in the air vary with localities; some trees are more tolerant of air pollution than others.

Before you make the final decision on the tree species, other factors should be considered. Is the tree being planted to save energy and provide shade? Is it being planted to beautify the grounds? Is providing wildlife habitat important? Will the tree be part of a windbreak or shelterbelt? Determining why a tree is being planted will help identify the ideal species.

Also know how big it will be at maturity. Will it have “head space” and root area to grow well? Will roots interfere with the sidewalk, patio, or driveway at maturity? Will it block windows or scenic views or tangle with the utility wires when it is mature? These answers will all help eliminate inappropriate species. Finally, keep in mind its shape, its leaves and its impact on the area.

After you have chosen a tree that is suitable for the location, you should have your choice confirmed by one of the city’s arborists, or by the state forester. The state forester who serves our area is Wendy Van Buren. She can be reached at 513-897-1082.


By Mike Barhorst

Contributing columnist

The writer is the mayor of Sidney.

See tomorrow’s editorial page for the second half of this column.

The writer is the mayor of Sidney.

See tomorrow’s editorial page for the second half of this column.