Wednesday, April 23, 2008

What one community can do to fight global warming

Reforestation program is a necessary part of community-wide planning

by Thomas P. Hagen
"I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree."
When Joyce Kilmer wrote these lines at the beginning of the 20th century he didn’t know the half of it. Trees are more than just lovely assets that increase property values. They are producers of oxygen, providers of shade and cooling in the summer, wind breaks in the winter, absorbers of excess ground moisture preventing excess runoff, and most importantly, absorbers of vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, turning the carbon dioxide into biomass. It has been estimated that seven mature trees absorb the carbon produced by an average adult American in a year. A Minnesota study in the March-April 2006 edition of the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer reported that the 200,000 public trees in Minneapolis alone provide total benefits to the city each year of $24.9 million in energy savings, carbon emission reductions, air pollution abatement, storm water management, aesthetics and enhanced property values. When costs associated with tree planting and management are subtracted, the benefit citywide was still $79 per tree per year for a whopping total of $15.7 million annually.

The best way to control global warming is to curb emissions, but the second best is to create carbon sinks — places in the environment where free carbon dioxide can be fixed by removal from the air. Trees are expert at this, producing beneficial oxygen as a by-product. (Remember the carbon cycle from high school biology?)

Mankato could fix many thousands of tons of carbon dioxide through re-forestation of our hillsides; parks, river and stream sides; highway medians and roadsides; and backyards and boulevards at a minimal cost. Native species tree seedlings are available cheaply each spring. Using community service groups, boy and girl scout troops, FFA chapters, along with adopt a hillside/roadside type programs, in two weeks every spring replanting could be quickly accomplished. Pest species that feed on seedlings (read deer) would need to be controlled, especially in the early years of young tree development. Once trees take root and begin to grow, the need for mowing ditches and hillsides vanishes saving both fuel and labor costs. As the trees mature many years in the future they will furnish biomass that can be utilized as an alternate renewable fuel source as fossil fuels become scarce.

Practiced region-wide, this effort will produce spectacular results for us all: A tree-lined river, shaded walks, sound buffering and the hiding of now ugly on and off ramps and interchanges, wildlife habitat and the enhancement of the natural look of the spectacular Minnesota River valley.
Steal away at midnight
If you fear someone will see,
And out along the highway
Dig a hole and plant a tree.

Plant them in the medians
Of roadways, or near parking lots.
On boulevards, in alleyways,
In short, on every vacant spot.
Do not give up but persevere!
Your flag, each branch and leaf unfurled.
Your shovel high, a war declare
Of green upon the treeless world!

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