If you ever doubted that the great forests of the U.S. are under attack, consider the following forces which are acting daily to diminish one of this nation’s greatest natural resources. Infestations of harmful wood-boring beetles literally kill off tens of thousands of acres of trees every year. Forest fires consume vast tracts of forested lands every year, and even though eventual re-growth occurs, that takes a long time. Changes to the climate, especially drought, are also putting forests under tremendous stress, making them more susceptible to the harmful impacts of pests and forest fires.
Fortunately, there are some projects underway to help counteract all these negative forces, so there is yet hope that trees will remain as guardians of earth, providing their benevolent influence. International forest certification programs like Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) ensure that forests are sustainably managed, so that for every tree that is harvested, at least one new tree is planted in its place. Without them, there would be a great deal more harmful carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, much of our water supply would go unfiltered, and there wouldn’t be a reliable and consistent supply of lumber for future generations to come.
Even though all forests in North America have been certified for decades, we continue to see the effects of climate change, wood boring pests, forest fires, and poor forest management practices that occurred in the decades and centuries prior. These five projects supported by the Nature Conservancy are an effort to reverse those impacts.
Red spruce forests in this region were decimated by heavy logging and forest fires throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. Some trees were re-planted, but the red spruce has not grown back as readily as other species have. The Nature Conservancy has partnered with other concerned organizations to help restore some of the great red spruce forests of West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Maryland. This program really got in full swing in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and is still going strong today.
Vast forests of longleaf pine stretched across much of the southeastern U.S. 200 years ago, but that enormous stretch of pine has been virtually wiped away by poor logging methods, and conversion of the land for farming and industrial usage. A serious effort was begun more than a decade ago to reverse this regrettable policy, and today the tiny individual stands of longleaf pine are making a remarkable comeback in some areas, with roughly 4 million acres now enjoying protection from logging and other usage.
The biggest stretch of forested wetlands in America used to be found along the Mississippi bottomland, with cypress and other trees taking up 24 million acres of wetland, and providing home to a diverse collection of animals and other plants. After years of farming and clearing for home-building, only about 5 million acres of those wetlands remain. The Nature Conservancy has worked for the past 30 years to try to protect and restore these Mississippi bottomland areas, and progress is finally starting to gain traction.
Over the past 30 years, the formerly prolific shortleaf pine has seen huge tracts of forest eliminated because of pests and timber management policies. The Nature Conservancy has recently spearheaded a drive called the Shortleaf Pine Initiative to protect and better manage the remaining stands of shortleaf pine.
Numerous metropolitan areas have joined forces with The Nature Conservancy and other organizations to promote a re-forestation of trees in urban settings. Chicago, Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles are just a few of the huge cities which have recognized the value of planting as many trees as possible in their urban landscapes, to help improve the quality of life for all their citizenry.
Excess carbon in the atmosphere amplifies the greenhouse effect and planting trees helps mitigate that impact because trees sequester carbon. But in urban areas, planting trees could provide even more localized benefits. A new study published by The Nature Conservancy suggests that if more trees were planted in larger cities, then residents in those cities could benefit from cooler temperatures and reduced air pollution.
Trees cool the area around them by providing shade. Additionally, they use some of the sun’s warm energy during photosynthesis, effectively absorbing it from the atmosphere. Studies show that the combined efforts of these two factors can cool the surrounding local climate, resulting in cooler temperatures. Trees also act as natural filters that eliminate certain particulates and pollutants, effectively cleaning the air.
According to The Nature Conservancy study, cities with a low cost of planting trees, high levels of pollution and heat, and high population density would be expected to see the highest return on their investment. The study suggests that if $3.2 billion were invested among 245 of the world’s most populated cities, then up to 36,000 lives could be saved every year. Moreover, it’s estimated that an investment of this size could provide 77 million people with relief on the hottest days of the year by reducing temperatures and 68 million people would benefit from reductions in particulate matter pollution. This could save up to 48 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity for air conditioning and prevent up to 13 million tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.
Perhaps the number of trees planted in cities isn’t the only factor that should be considered. Urban developers often select trees to plant primarily for aesthetic purposes. However, one group of scientists think the focus should shift from aesthetics to biodiversity. In a new study published in the Journal of Landscape and Urban Planning, Dr. Juliane Vogt observes that city planners frequently use between 10 to 15 different species of trees to plant in a city and suggests that that’s not enough to support biodiversity.
For many species of life, the habitat of urban life presents them with an opportunity for new beginnings. The benefit, then, of having more biodiversity of trees in cities is that it could support the survival and evolution of other animals in cities that otherwise couldn’t survive. Perhaps the benefits of planting more trees in densely populated, polluted urban areas could be expanded if a greater variety of tree species were also considered. Moreover, the planting of a wide variety of trees would make urban areas less susceptible to widespread loss in the event of an insect or pathogen attack.
To search where tree planting can reduce heat in your city, visit the Planting Healthy Air Report below.