February 2008
Featured Articles

Arbor Day: A Good Time to Consider the Benefits of Trees

By Ashley Smith

 
  The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. However, Benjamin Smith shows now is the second best time. Plant for the future by planting a tree today!
As a small child, my son, Benjamin, took great interest in trees. Since both of his parents are foresters, we impressed upon him from an early age the importance of trees. We wanted him to understand trees are near and dear to the hearts of many people because of the beauty and inspiration they provide. We also wanted him to understand the other benefits of trees. Since Alabamians celebrate Arbor Day during the last full week of February, this is a great time to review a few of the numerous benefits trees provide. Learning more about trees is interesting and fun to children of all ages.

Trees give us many things we all need and use in our everyday lives. Of course, the most important gift they give us is oxygen. Without oxygen, we could not live. Growing trees and plants offer us a natural way to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Through photosynthesis, an average young tree can remove approximately 25 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in a single year. For these reasons alone, trees are special.

Trees give us products we know, like paper and lumber or wood. Lesser-known tree products include toothpaste, crayons, glue, cellophane tape, dishwashing detergent, shampoos, lotions, cosmetics and certain plastics. We all use some of these products every day. Making most of these products requires trees to be harvested. The good thing about trees is more trees can be grown!

Trees are a renewable resource. A renewable resource is a naturally occurring raw material or form of energy, which has the capacity to replenish itself through ecological cycles and sound management practices. Trees are one example of a renewable resource. They can be harvested and used for the many products they provide to us. After they are harvested, trees can be replanted so a new forest is quickly established. However, even if young seedlings are not replanted, trees will grow where the previous forest existed (because of seeds in the ground). Because of this natural lifecycle, trees are renewable.

Trees are a recyclable resource because many of the products made from trees can be recycled and used again and again. Paper is one of the best examples of a recyclable tree product. When people recycle or reuse natural resources, like trees, they decrease the demand on the resource and save energy. In addition, recycling keeps material out of waste areas like landfills.

 
Benjamin Smith (lower on the tree) and his cousin, Nicolas Smith, both love being outdoors. They enjoy being able to climb and being among trees.  
Habitat for wildlife is provided by trees and forests. Many animals and insects make their homes in or on a tree. Other animals and insects depend on trees for the food supply they provide. Not all animals prefer the same type of forest. From early successional to old growth, there are species of animals and insects that thrive in each and every different forest type.

Trees and forests provide intangible social benefits to humans. Trees grow in forests, and forests provide many opportunities for recreation and enjoyment. People enjoy using the forests for camping, hiking, biking, hunting, fishing and relaxing. There are many things people enjoy about the forest. Trees are often appreciated for their aesthetic appeal and other intangible benefits.

Forests today can and must be managed for all of the multiple uses they have. It is possible for a forest to supply trees for products, provide animal habitat and offer recreational opportunities. People who tend to a forest are referred to as foresters. Both governmental entities and the private forest industry employ foresters; there are also a number of self-employed foresters.

Many jobs and incomes are related to forestry, especially in Alabama. Along with the foresters who manage the forests, there are contractors, like loggers, tree planters and others, who perform the various tasks of forest operations. Forest-related jobs include the employees who work in the mills that use the trees, those who sell the forest products and also jobs in transportation. For every job created directly forest-related, another two jobs are created which are indirectly related. Landowners depend on trees as well to provide income from their land. Cutting and replanting trees allow landowners the opportunity to reclaim some of their investment in their land and forest. Many landowners could not afford to keep the land if they could not harvest trees. These non-industrial private landowners own 58% of the land in the United States; the number increases sharply in the Southeast.

During this month when we celebrate the benefits trees provide, take time to plan and plant for the future. Your local Quality Co-op store offers many of the supplies you need to ensure a successful planting. Whether you need a new shovel, fertilizer to help prepare the soil for planting, or irrigation and watering supplies, the friendly folks at your Co-op will be glad to assist. Many of them also offer a full line of waterproof boots/shoes which are great for gardening and tree-planting.

Because of the many things trees do for us, we must think about trees by using our hearts and our minds. We must manage our forests and plant trees to provide all of the many tree benefits we love and need. And we must do so not just for ourselves. We must manage the forests in such a way there will be forests for many generations to come.

Ashley Smith is a freelance writer from Russell County.