Friday, February 1, 2013

I Think that I Shall Never See...

Thinking of spring, and these blooming callery pear trees on Beech Street, as the cold winter winds blow.
Trees are among the oldest life forms on this planet.

And whether for its spring time flowering, the initials carved in its bark, or its willingness to host your tree house, almost everyone has a favorite tree.

But did you know they are also helping to keep you alive?

This revelation came to me courtesy of Pottstown resident and arborist Alan Jensen-Sellers, who posted a link on Facebook to an article in The Atlantic magazine.

The article had the tantalizing title: "When Trees Die, People Die," 

The Emerald Ash borer is about the size of a penny, but its impact

is huge.
It explored the link discovered between the mass reduction of the tree population by the invasive Emerald Ash Borer and an increase in cases of heart disease in areas where the insect has struck.

Here is the core of what was found:
When the U.S. Forest Service looked at mortality rates in counties affected by the emerald ash borer, they found increased mortality rates. Specifically, more people were dying of cardiovascular and lower respiratory tract illness -- the first and third most common causes of death in the U.S. As the infestation took over in each of these places, the connection to poor health strengthened.
You can read a copy of the study here.

This is a case of a benefit being proven by its absence, which I like to call the "Joni Mitchell Effect," Re: (Don't it always seem to go, you don't know what you've got till its gone...)

Certainly we all know that trees produce oxygen, which we need to live, and take in and store carbon dioxide, which is also a good thing.

They also act like giant cilia in the lungs of the world, filtering out air pollutants.

For example, the trees of Rock Creek Park in Washington, DC remove 63,500 pounds of ozone-forming pollutants each year, which has an annual value of $285,000.
This again from The Atlantic:
The Forest Service put a 3.8 billion dollar value on the air pollution annually removed by urban trees. In Washington D.C., trees remove nitrogen dioxide to an extent equivalent to taking 274,000 cars off the traffic-packed beltway, saving an estimated $51 million in annual pollution-related health care costs.
We also know that trees perform something called "storm water services."

What this means is that when it rains a lot, which is happening more and more thanks to global warming, trees absorb an amazing amount of water.

This saves us money.

How? Well the more water trees absorb, the less we have to deal with in storm drains, damns and stormwater containment basins.

Urban forests can reduce pollution and stormwater run-off.
A single mature tree can absorb up to 100 gallons of water, releasing some through evapo-transpiration and some back into the ground more slowly.

According to the U.S. Forrest Service, urban trees can reduce stormwater run-off, a pollution problem that is expensive to manage, by 2 to 7 percent.

And since planting trees costs less than building pipes and expanding wastewater treatment plants, cities like New York and Portland, Ore. are undergoing projects to plant thousands of trees as part of what is now called "green infrastructure.

What's my point? you may ask

Not much more than to point out that while trees can be a pain, making us rake their leaves, falling on our house or car in strong winds, rooting through our water or sewer lines, they have their good sides too.


  1. Wow. To bad Pottstown eliminated its Shade Tree Commission.

    1. Yes, I would like to see it come back too. Just not as a heavy handed bully pulpit that it was before.

  2. Interesting article about Callery Pear Trees.