How much is a tree worth?

The more that I learn about trees, the more I appreciate their pricelessness.

Mark Cullen wrote a piece in last Saturday’s Toronto Star that offered a meditation on the value of trees in our life. Cullen reflects on the relationship between tree and person, in particular the person who carefully plants each tree with a purpose.

Someone asked me recently how many trees I have planted on the property and I could not give an accurate response. All I know is that, while the number surely is greater than 2,000, it still is not enough for me. Planting them was half the fun. Measuring their growth against the sky and the passing of time is the other half.

Like an artist, the creation process is only half the trip. Trees grow over time. Their environment adapts to them and they adapt to their environment. Wildlife colonizes its nooks and crannies. Rain or drought dictate each year’s growth.

A tree will stand in the same place for its entire life and never whimper or stray from its roots even once. During that time it will cast cooling shade, convert carbon dioxide into oxygen and, who knows, maybe someone will cut it down when its life is over and use the parts for firewood or to mill into lumber to build a house.

Cullen cited statistics from LEAF, a non-profit organization dedicated to the urban forest, which pegged the value of the urban tree at $160,000 over its lifetime. I couldn’t immediately find more details on the LEAF site, but I did find the following list.

Benefits of the Urban Forest

  1. Improves air quality by trapping pollution particles that cause breathing problems
  2. Absorbs carbon dioxide and other gases and in return provides us with oxygen
  3. Reduces air temperature when water evaporates from the leaves
  4. Intercepts rainfall resulting in reduced storm water runoff and improved water quality
  5. Provides much-needed wildlife habitat
  6. Reduces noise pollution by acting as a sound barrier
  7. Can increase property values by up to 30%

In addition, the LEAF site noted,  deciduous trees planted on the south and west sides of a house can reduce air conditioning needs by up to 40%, while evergreens planted on the north side act as windbreaks, lowering winter heating costs by up to 10%.

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Bra Tree

When a tree is planted, we never know how someone will interact with them. Some will read or have a picnic in the shade. Others will climb it or build tree houses. And some will throw panties and other undergarmants at them. Exhibit #1: Blue Mountain ski resort’s Bra Tree.

Mountain Life Magazine first posted a video in January 2010. They updated the story last January and the Toronto Star printed a story on the tree today. I had heard about shoe trees. I wonder what other garments adorn unsuspecting flora?

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What’s the point in planting a tree?

Author Charlotte Gill was recently named to the shortlist for the 2012 Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction. In October, the Toronto Star published an interview with Gill. Near the end of the interview, Feature Writer Leslie Scrivener asked: Human hands can replace trees but not necessarily the forest, you say. Then, what’s the point?

Gill’s response summed it up beautifully:

At the back of our minds, we were always asking, “Why are we planting these trees?” We’re planting these trees so they can be cut down in 80 years. We’re not planting forests; we’re planting toilet paper for tomorrow. But, we don’t have any way of really knowing what’s going to happen when we leave. We deliver these little tiny trees into the ground. What we do in five seconds determines how it will be for the next 80 years. It’s like an art form. But it does not replicate the biodiversity or richness of what was there before. It sets the stage . . . On the other hand, forests are really good at their job to grow and build. They will do that every single minute of every single day . . . there are these two forces in balance and we have tipped the balance in one direction.

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Biodiversity is key, says ECO

The ECO recommends that the MNR develop a provincial biodiversity strategy in consultation with affected ministries, municipalities and stakeholders.

Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO) Gord Miller released a special report today, “Biodiversity: A Nation’s Commitment, and Obligation for Ontario.” The report urges the Government of Ontario to come with a new strategy to stem the decline of Ontario’s species and natural spaces. Ontario’s five-year Biodiversity Strategy expired in 2010 and the plan has not been updated since. Canada attended the Convention on Biodiversity in Nagoya, Japan and the federal government agreed to 20 biodiversity targets to be met by 2020. It’s up to the provinces to undertake the work.

The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario is appointed by the Legislative Assembly to be the province’s independent environmental watchdog, reporting publicly on the government’s environmental decision making.

In his opening remarks to the Legislature before he released the report, he said:

These targets recognise that preserving our biodiversity is not a simple task requiring the attention of one or two government ministries. Rather, it requires changes in a wide variety of activities across many ministries. Success necessitates that those ministries become sensitive to their many influences on
ecosystems and that they change their way of doing business.

We live in an ecosystem that includes the natural world and our built environment. For urban dwellers, our dwellings and our pursuits may be different from that of the forest fauna, but we are all in this together. Just as Southern Ontario wildlife can’t live in a parched field devoid of any greenery or shade, humans can’t live in an urban setting devoid of greenery or shade. What’s more, the urban/non-urban boundary is fluid. Our cities are not surround by walls that keep nature out or, equally, us in. The only way to appreciate our natural world is to be allowed to interact with in on our own terms.

In his report, Miller pointed out that our species and natural spaces are threatened by habitat degradation, climate change, invasive species, overexploitation and pollution. More than anything, Miller expressed frustration that much is promised yet little is fulfilled, regardless of the level of government or of the political stripes.

We must be willing to look beyond our individual silos and have conversations with others to whom we are interconnected. Co-operation is the key to ensure the long-term survival of any project.

If we plant a tree in a park, who looks after that park after we leave? Who is responsible for staking the trees and then removing the stakes once they are no longer needed? Who decides if a tree lives or dies? Habitat restoration projects big and small have been established across the country. Some have flourished, others have withered and still others have been removed altogether. To what end then, do we attempt to restore habitats?

We can protect the diversity of our natural spaces by encouraging that parks are maintained. If trees are removed due to disease or death, they should be replaced by two trees. A variety of native species, sourced from nearby nurseries, should planted in any project to protect against species-specific threats.

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Hope amid a “disaster in the making”

January 6 marked Epiphany within the Christian tradition. United Church of Canada moderator Mardi Tindal reflected on the fragile hope of epiphany and what it means for us in today’s world. She commented on her experience at the United Nations Climate Change Conference that was held in Durban, South Africa late last year. The theme of that conference was “Working Together: Saving Tomorrow Today.” For a variety of reasons, the talks did not end the way that many hoped that they would. Yet Tindal saw hope:

For the first time ever, all nations have said that they will commit to enforceable climate action by 2015.

While it remains to be seen if future high-level climate talks will produce results, Tindal raises two important points.

The first, is that we must be prepared for difficult and necessary conversations about the choices that Canada will face in the future. These conversations will be difficult because they will involve looking beyond polarized stances and seeing that we are all within the same community: Planet Earth. Tindal reflected on conversations that she had with Canadian Minister of the Environment Peter Kent who forthrightly called climate change a ‘disaster in the making.’ The Canadian government has been a critic of past climate change efforts and disappointed many with their stance at Durban. But that does not mean that they are not part of the solution. As Tindal wrote, “For myself, I choose to claim Peter Kent as part of my community. I will not exclude him from those I am prepared to talk and work with to prevent the disaster in the making.”

But we cannot leave this conversation to others. Tindal urges us not leave climate change issues to politicians and policy makers. As Canadians, we have a responsibility to do our part. First, she writes, “We need to convince our leaders that we will support morally responsible choices for the sake of life for all. Morally responsible choices embrace the needs and the wisdom of others in our global community.” But we must go further than that, we must turn our words into actions. Rather than simply lobby our politicians to prove our point, we must must also act on a local and global scale.

Our world is our home. Our public spaces belong to everyone. We must not let ourselves lose sight of the world that exists outside our window. We must not let the nature simply become the wallpaper. To get out into nature allows us to appreciate it and when we appreciate it we find the fill to preserve and protect it. Public spaces like our parks, school yards, church yards and corporate lawns are all part of our collective green capital. With the proper investment of time, energy and money we can improve these spaces for the collective benefit of everyone. We can turn our empty spaces into active spaces, ready for us to introduce new Canadians, young and old, the joys of our natural world.

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