9 Reasons Trees are Awesome!

Here in Cordova, you’ve got all kinds of folks.  But we all have one thing in common:  we care about the environment.  And why not, when it’s our livelihood.  Our bounty of commercial fishermen utilize one of our most plentiful natural resources to feed their families and so many others all over the world.  But there’s an army of organizations and groups behind these fishermen that diligently monitor everything from governmental policies to populations of fish and other marine life to maintain a healthy, profitable fishery.  This Arbor Day, I’d like to give a shout out to groups like Cordova District Fishermen United (CDFU), Prince William Sound Science Center (PWSSC), Copper River Watershed Project (CRWP) and numerous others that are working to protect everything having to do with fishing, including the environment.  To those groups and so many others, a tip of the hat!

But the environment is a complicated, extremely interconnected thing and there are a lot of ways to look after it responsibly.  Today is Arbor Day, so we’re going to talk about one of the most basic environmental entities in need of protection (and appreciation)… the TREE!  The New York Times recently published a great article, Why Trees Matter.  Here some of my favorite excerpts:

We take [trees] for granted, but they are a near miracle. In a bit of natural alchemy called photosynthesis, for example, trees turn one of the seemingly most insubstantial things of all — sunlight — into food for insects, wildlife and people, and use it to create shade, beauty and wood for fuel, furniture and homes…

What trees do is essential though often not obvious. Decades ago, Katsuhiko Matsunaga, a marine chemist at Hokkaido University in Japan, discovered that when tree leaves decompose, they leach acids into the ocean that help fertilize plankton. When plankton thrive, so does the rest of the food chain. In a campaign called Forests Are Lovers of the Sea, fishermen have replanted forests along coasts and rivers to bring back fish and oyster stocks. And they have returned.

That is especially important to think about when you live in a place like Cordova!  Who knew terrestrial trees were so vital to a healthy marine ecosystem!

In Japan, researchers have long studied what they call “forest bathing.” A walk in the woods, they say, reduces the level of stress chemicals in the body and increases natural killer cells in the immune system, which fight tumors and viruses. Studies in inner cities show that anxiety, depression and even crime are lower in a landscaped environment.

In honor of Arbor Day, here are my top 9 reasons trees are awesome!

  1. TREES PRODUCE OXYGEN!  Let’s face it, we could not exist as we do if there were no trees. A mature leafy tree produces as much oxygen in a season as 10 people inhale in a year. What many people don’t realize is the forest also acts as a giant filter that cleans the air we breath. (source:  www.forestry.about.com)
  2. TREES ARE AIR AND WATER FILTERS!  One acre of trees removes up to 2.6 tons of carbon dioxide each year.  Trees are nature’s water filters, capable of cleaning up the most toxic wastes, including explosives, solvents and organic wastes, largely through a dense community of microbes around the tree’s roots that clean water in exchange for nutrients, a process known as phytoremediation. Tree leaves also filter air pollution.  (sources:  New York Times, http://www.treesaregood.com)
  3. TREES ARE USEFUL!  Thousands of products are made from trees!  From wood and pulp products (like furniture and paper) and food (nuts, syrup, fruit & spices) to chemicals (like natural dies, shoe polish and toothpaste) and cellulose products (like rayon clothing, adhesives and photographic film).  The list goes on and on!  For more info on this, visit http://www.ehow.com/about_5438865_products-made-trees.html.
  4. TREE SLOW WATER RUN-OFF & PREVENT EROSION!  Here in Cordova, this is especially important, with all the rain we get in a normal summer.  But this is important all over the world.  Flash flooding can be dramatically reduced by a forest or by planting trees. One Colorado blue spruce, either planted or growing wild, can intercept more than 1000 gallons of water annually when fully grown. Underground water-holding aquifers are recharged with this slowing down of water runoff. They also improve water quality by slowing and filtering rain water, as well as protecting aquifers and watersheds.  (source: http://www.forestry.about.com & http://www.treesaregood.com)
  5. TREES KEEP US COOL!  This may not seem so much of a “benefit” for us here in Alaska where we relish every day it’s above 50 degrees, but it’s great for the planet as a whole!  The obvious reason is shade.  Trees protect plants, animals and people from excess UV rays.  They also keep the concrete and asphalt of cities and suburbs 10 or more degrees cooler. Trees also, of course, sequester carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that makes the planet warmer. But trees also have an ever cooler trait (that’s punny!).  A study by the Carnegie Institution for Science also found trees can hold moisture in near the ground, which has been shown to better regulate temperatures over time.  We’ve all heard about “Global Warming” or “Climate Change” as its called in some circles.  Planting trees and grasses may be one of the few things we can do to counter this. (source:  New York Times)  
  6. TREES MAKE US HEALTHIER!  A study conducted at the University of Delaware showed that surgical patients who had a view of trees and landscaping outside their windows shortened their hospital stays by 8%, received fewer negative comments in nursing reports and took fewer pain killers than patients who had no views. Studies also found that nature and forest scenes tend to decrease stress in drivers and also tend to improve thought processes and problem solving skills.   In a Chicago study focusing on low-income government subsidized housing developments, apartment buildings with high levels of greenery had 52% fewer total crimes. Proximity to trees also tends to increase levels of exercise in an area and its sense of community.  (source:  Houston Area Urban Forestry Council & Waverley Council)
  7. TREES ARE ECONOMICAL!  As an energy source, they are renewable… much more easily created than our country’s main sources of fuel: oil, coal & gas.  If you live in a part of the country that is warm enough to necessitate air conditioners, you might be interested to know that the net cooling effect of a young, healthy tree is equivalent to ten room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.  If you plant a tree today on the west side of your home, in 5 years your energy bills should be 3% less. In 15 years the savings will be nearly 12%.  They’re also great for property values.  Landscaping, especially with trees, can increase property values as much as 20 percent.  Trees can be a stimulus to economic development, attracting new business and tourism. Commercial retail areas are more attractive to shoppers, apartments rent more quickly, tenants stay longer, and space in a wooded setting is more valuable to sell or rent.  (source:  Arbor Day Foundation)
  8. TREES CREATE HABITAT FOR WILDLIFE!  It’s almost impossible to name all the insects, birds, rodents, and mammals that live in trees.  Many of these animals are specifically habituated to a particular tree and can be directly affected if that tree population is attacked.  For example, the Willow Flycatcher is a type of bird that almost went extinct when the willows that it called home were almost completely wiped out.  Trees also increase biodiversity.  A variety of trees provides a range of food and habitat, for a myriad of microorganisms that live around the roots in the soil, insects living under bark, birds, lizards and small mammals living in tree hollows and within the canopy. (source:  Waverley Council)
  9. TREES ARE SPIRITUAL!  Trees are included in most religions. Some hold certain trees sacred; other use trees to help teach beliefs. Besides the Garden of Eden story many have heard, there is also a story that Buddha received his enlightment under the wisdom tree.  Trees are also shown to relax you.  In laboratory research, visual exposure to settings with trees has produced significant recovery from stress within five minutes, as indicated by changes in blood pressure and muscle tension. Just look at how they are used in movies like Pocahontas, Fern Gully, and Avatar. (source:  www.ncsu.edu and Texas A&M University)

So celebrate Arbor Day today by appreciating these organisms that do so much for us:  Hug a Tree!  🙂

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