What’s the big deal about trees anyway?

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This is my first contribution to Farm and Dairy on behalf of the Portage Soil and Water Conservation District. With less than a month in my new position as stormwater educator, it was difficult to come up with a substantive topic. Then, I started compiling a tree list for the 2011 spring tree sale, and I thought about the opportunity it provides landowners.

Tree sale history

I’ve heard it said that a good place to start is the beginning, but finding the “beginning” of the Soil and Water Conservation District seedling sale was not so simple.

A quick Internet search yielded information about conservation district seedling sales in countless counties in almost every state I searched. It’s a logical fit that an organization charged with the responsibility of conserving natural resources would be a good place to make plants available to assist landowners with reforestation, wildlife, erosion and other conservation efforts. But finding a precise historical moment when the conservation districts were given this charge was not easily found.

I wondered if the seedling sales were the lingering vestige of some massive concerted effort in our nation’s history to plant trees? The earliest major U.S. tree planting effort I found documented was performed by the Civilian Conservation Corps, which was a public work relief program under Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. The Civilian Conservation Corps planted 3 billion trees between 1935 and 1942.

Does it really matter?

Does it really matter how the tree sales got their start? I am a veteran tree sale patron. For years, I have anxiously waited for the “Tree Sale List” to come in the mail to start making my selections. And as a patron, I never really considered how the tree sale evolved, I was just glad for the opportunity to purchase seedlings at a near-wholesale cost.

Additionally, it was always comforting to know that the plant varieties being offered had been selected by a group of professionals who were trying to make plants available that would serve many specific land use functions without threatening our native ecosystems.

Do trees matter?

Of course they do! Most of us instinctively know that trees are a vital component of our natural resources. You could probably quickly name more than a dozen timber products in your home that provide shelter or comfort to your daily life. You would probably even have some sense of the dollar value of these items.

But if you were asked, how many environmental benefits could you list that are provided by the trees in your community? Would you have any idea how to calculate the economic value of these environmental benefits?

For starters, have you ever tried to place a monetary value on the “shade” provided by the shade tree in your front yard? Likewise, have you ever looked at that same shade tree and tried to determine how many gallons of water are retained within? Could such information be useful in evaluating stormwater run-off?

What influence, if any, do trees have on such things as pollution and climate change? Furthermore, can these influences be measured?

i-Tree

Luckily for us, the U.S. Forest Service along with their major cooperators, Davey Tree, The International Society of Arboriculture, The Arbor Day Foundation, and Environmental Protection Agency have developed a software suite of tools designed to quantify the environmental benefits of trees by size and species.

By completing a tree inventory and using i-Tree software, a community can now calculate the environmental services that trees provide. Some of the benefits assessed with this software are:

Air pollution removal of ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and particulate matter.

Total carbon stored and net carbon annually sequestered by the urban forest.

Effects of trees on building energy use and consequent effects on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

Urban stormwater runoff (or “non-point source pollution”) that washes chemicals (oil, gasoline, salts, etc.) and litter from surfaces such as roadways and parking lots into streams, wetlands, rivers and oceans.

Reduction of soil erosion by slowing rainfall before it strikes the soil.

Property values: Trees can increase the “curb appeal” of properties thereby increasing sale prices.

Can you determine the species of that shade tree in your front yard? If so, you can enter that data along with the diameter of the tree and your zip code to learn about the specific contributions your tree is making to your community. You can find the online calculator at www.treebenefits.com/calculator/

Getting involved

Conservation of our natural resources is a responsibility we all share.

Many communities have volunteer groups, such as Shade Tree Commissions that provide leadership in areas related to their community forest. These groups often train citizens to conduct tree inventories.

Citizen groups have been instrumental throughout Ohio with early detection of exotic pests such as emerald ash borer and are now being trained to look for evidence of Asian longhorned beetle. To get involved, contact your Ohio Department of Natural Resources regional urban forester, or contact your municipal administrator.

(Lynn Vogel is the new part-time stormwater educator at Portage County SWCD. She is a graduate of Ohio University with a degree in industrial hygiene and environmental health.)

About the Author

Lynn Vogel is the new part-time Stormwater Educator at Portage County SWCD. A graduate of Ohio University with a degree in Industrial Hygiene and Environmental Health, she looks forward to working in the county on stormwater and other conservation issues. More Stories by Lynn Vogel

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