Love and Need for Trees

By Kate Crowley
The recent storms that blew through took a toll on many trees in the Willow River area. On our property we thought we had been spared because there were just two dead jack pines that came down in the horse pasture. We have lots of trees around our home and thankfully they held, but then we walked around our trails today and discovered there will be months of work cutting and clearing all the trees that fell and that includes a two perfectly healthy looking white pines and a very large, very healthy looking balsam fir.   
We are in the habit of leaving dead trees standing in our fields and pasture as food and nesting sites for the birds and don’t really mourn their loss when they finally succumb to the elements.  They have given their all to us and the other creatures that live here, but losing a healthy, full size tree is always a shock and a feeling of loss, especially if it is nearby where you are used to seeing it, day in and day out.
Last year we had to take down a blue spruce that succumbed to disease after growing in our front yard for 25 years.  It was given to us as a gift in memory of Mike’s son Matt, who died in 1989, so it had even more significance and the decision to take it down was complicated by those feelings, but it had lost nearly all its needles and was not going to get better.  In those two and half decades it had grown from under four feet to over 40, so it filled a large space in the front yard.  When it came down it was a shock every time we looked out the window and saw only a gaping hole in the front yard. I have planted a couple lilacs in its place and the flowering crab that had been overshadowed by the conifer is looking healthier. 
Planting trees as saplings and watching them grown binds us to these life forms in ways that are only superseded by our relationships with our pets.  Trees give us so much, and are taken for granted day in and day out.
I was reminded of one of their gifts a week ago when we were in Louisiana and the temperature was in the 90s, with humidity to match. We were walking through the Oak Alley Plantation, which gets its name from two parallel rows of massive, old growth Live Oaks.  I have never seen trees with trunks that are so massive and branches reaching out and downward to support their unfathomable weight.  They are estimated to be three hundred years old.  
What I noticed once we got into the shade created by these old giants was a definite feeling of cooler temperatures. Being protected from the sun’s hot rays was obviously part of it, but in fact trees also create cooler temps by the evaporation of water from the surface of their leaves.  The chemical conversion of water into air vapor removes heat energy from the air. One report indicated that the evaporation from a single tree could have the same cooling effect of 10 room size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.  Generally speaking, the temperature under a cover of trees is 9-10 degrees less than in a space without trees. In the winter months if you have evergreens nearby, they reduce wind speed and the loss of heat from your home by as much as 10 to 50 percent.  Both qualities can lead to significant financial savings in energy usage.
We now have three maples and a very large red pine in our front yard.  One of the maples is growing right next to our deck and I have to prune some of the branches back each summer as they continue to reach out for sunlight and space.  I cut sparingly though because this tree is providing protection from the summer sun and is also acting as a privacy screen between us and the road.  In the autumn, when the leaves come down, we receive full benefit of the winter sun to the south.  Each year I look to see if the upper branches have grown tall enough to be visible from our bedroom skylight. They are just beginning to peek above and I can’t wait for the day when they wave back and forth and provide perches for the birds.
While shade is my biggest concern in this season, the most important benefit of trees is their ability to take CO2 out of the atmosphere (sequester it) and release oxygen.  Trees have been called the ‘lungs of the planet’ and I really can’t think of a better analogy.  In this time of great concern about climate change and the quantity of CO2 going into our atmosphere, we can use all the help we can get. There are lots of figures out there indicating just how much carbon each tree can store; I found estimates to ranging from 13 pounds per year to 48 pounds per year.  The size, age and species of the tree make a big difference. The American Forestry Association estimates that “100 million new trees would absorb 18 million tons of carbon dioxide and cut US air conditioning costs by $4 billion annually”.  According to Timothy Fahey, a professor in the Department of Natural Resources at Cornell University, “An approximate value for a 50-year-old oak forest would be 30,000 pounds of carbon dioxide sequestered per acre,”, while emitting “about 22,000 pounds of oxygen.”
Do yourself and the planet a favor this year and plant some trees.  They will be your legacy; enjoyed and appreciated by people far into the future.



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