Groups aim to make up for lost forests with Arbor Day plantings

by George Weaver
Posted 4/24/15, 10:52 am

Conservation groups are converging on empty green spaces in urban areas across the country today, armed with shovels and saplings. The mass tree plantings are part of National Arbor Day events organized to help replace trees felled by construction and sprawl.

Many of the nonprofit organizations are affiliated with the Alliance for Community Trees and the National Arbor Day Foundation, which provides many of the tiny trees. Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City, Neb., will ship 250,000 saplings this year to groups planning mass plantings. In Michigan alone, groups are planting 50,000 trees across the southern part of the state. 

While one day’s work may seem like a small amount compared to the number of trees cut down every year, conservation groups are incrementally adding to their cities’ canopies. In Atlanta, for example, Trees Atlanta has planted 100,000 trees during the last 30 years.

Forests overall cover 31 percent of the land on Earth and 30 percent of the land in the United States. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the world’s forests store 319 billion tons of carbon in their biomass and provide a cooling effect. The world’s net loss of forest land is 13 million acres per year, an area the size of Costa Rica, with the largest net loss of forest in South America and Africa. 

Deforestation can lead to erosion, drought, reduced air quality, and desertification. The barren landscape of Easter Island, where every tree was cut down by the early 1700s, provides a glaring lesson. The Caribbean island of Hispaniola is a modern case study. It hosts two nations: Haiti, which suffers from massive deforestation, and the more prosperous Dominican Republic, which has lots of trees.

Many U.S. cities seek to protect trees by requiring permits for cutting and “tree for tree” replacement. The Forest Stewardship Council, a non-governmental organization, encourages long-range forest management by certifying forests and forest products based on factors such as harvesting rate and replanting. Many companies—including Home Depot, Lowe’s, IKEA, and FedEx—voluntarily submit to the council’s standards.

George Weaver

George, an attorney who lives in Atlanta, participated in the fall 2012 World Journalism Institute mid-career class.

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