A billion trees

There are at least one-third less trees worldwide than at one time. Yet trees have value in producing oxygen, using carbon from the atmosphere (which we in turn use for fuel and timber, among other purposes), and providing many other uses such as for medicines, food, and even pesticides. To help counter the loss of trees, the United Nations has launched a campaign this year to plant over one billion trees worldwide. They provide some interesting facts on trees, how they directly can help you, and how you can easily help this “Plant for the Planet: Billion Tree Campaign.”

Here are some interesting facts on the value of trees in forests and in landscapes:

*To make up for the loss of trees in just the past decade, we would need to replant 321 million acres. This would entail planting about 14 billion trees every year, for 10 consecutive years. So, while this program sounds like many trees, and is, it is only the beginning of what is needed.

*In one year, an average tree produces enough oxygen for a family of four, for one year.

*One tree will absorb the carbon dioxide from four cars, every year.

*Planting trees remains the cheapest, and most effective, means of drawing excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

*Planting 100 million trees could reduce carbon by an estimated 18 million tons per year, while saving American consumers $4 billion each year on utility bills.

*Shade trees can reduce utility bills for air conditioning by 15 to 50 percent.

*The net cooling effect of a young, healthy tree is equivalent to ten room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.

*In winter, evergreen windbreaks can save up to 25 percent on heating costs.

*Healthy trees can add up to 15 percent to residential property values.

*Studies indicate that trees help create feelings of relaxation and well-being.

There are four priority areas in the Billion Tree Campaign for planting trees: degraded natural forests and wilderness areas, farms and rural landscapes, sustainably managed plantations, and urban environments. To be sustainable and successful, trees chosen for planting should be native and adapted to the climate and soil of a particular site. Mixtures of species should be used to create diversity. This in turn will lessen pests and diseases, and provide a more beneficial habitat for wildlife.

If you have been thinking of planting trees in your landscape, this year would be good to get started. If you haven’t considered this, but have some open space, perhaps you could plant a shade tree, or a row of evergreen trees as a hedge or windbreak, trees to stabilize slopes, or even a small grove of evergreen seedlings. The latter will provide a mini-forest for wildlife as it grows. If you are short on space, why not plant evergreens such as balsam firs that you can thin out as they grow, with use by you or others over the winter holidays. If you don’t have space, check locally to see if you can contribute time or funds to the planting of trees in public spaces such as parks.

The idea for this campaign came from Professor Wangari Maathai, founder of Kenya’s Green Belt Movement, and the 2004 winner of the Nobel Peace prize. When she was told that a corporate group in the United States was planning to plant a million trees, she responded “That’s great, but what we really need is to plant a billion trees.” As of spring 2007, over 830 million trees already have been pledged to be planted.

If you are planning to plant trees, even a single tree, this year, you too can enter your pledge on the United Nations Environment Program website in a few short minutes. You then can return and add when they were planted. This site has information on the history of this program, how trees are vital worldwide, why the numbers are declining, how to plant trees, and much more.

Make sure when choosing trees to know what climate and soils they require, or ask local nursery professionals. These professionals, arborists, local foresters, and extension agencies can provide help on choosing, proper planting, and subsequent care to make sure your trees survive and thrive for many years.

Dr. Leonard Perry is Extension Professor, Department of Plant and Soil Science at the University of Vermont. Visit his website at http://www.uvm.edu/~pass/perry/index.html