Our tree population is in danger
Earth has reached a crisis point with our trees. Over 45% of the tree species that were alive 12,000 years ago are now extinct. It is probably not a coincidence that humans were just starting to discover agriculture about that time as well. Humans cleared land and cut forests for thousands of years with no concern about the trees. There were plenty of them and forests were everywhere. As populations increased, deforestation continued and today, it is practiced on a catastrophic scale. And now, it appears that 30% of the remaining tree species are at risk. That is twice the number of all other threatened animals, birds and reptiles combined.
Trees keep the Earth alive
Trees are a vital part of our ecosystem. The roots hold soil in place, prevent erosion and a mature tree also helps with flood control by taking over 100 gallons of water (giant sequoias even more) from the soil each day. The roots are amazing and it is also astounding that the roots of most trees are often in the top 18 inches of the soil and even more are in the top 6 inches. This is why a tree sometimes dies when construction happens around it without harming the trunk. They synthesize carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air and produce oxygen as a by-product. This is why clear cutting forests harms the environment, not to mention, destroying wildlife habitat and the water they take from the soil is released into the atmosphere through transpiration, so they actually produce their own rain. Sadly, many of our tree species are going extinct and we should all be concerned because saving a single species is saving more than just the trees. Some trees are host plants to some of our fragile pollinators and others homes and food for small mammals and birds. Many of these creatures are species specific, meaning that if the tree species goes extinct, so will its dependent insect, animal or bird.
How we reached this critical point
Climate change, sea level rise, urbanization, disease and pests all contribute to this disaster in the making, however humans are the biggest threat. Forests are destroyed to make more agricultural land and construction tends to remove existing trees and plants instead of conserving what’s already there. Logging is another threat because human use so much wood for furniture, homes and paper. Gardeners can do their part to help. Instead of planting something that all of your neighbors already have, why not plant a species that can use some help? Many of these trees are still available commercially and there is a website called the Global Tree Portal that lets you search by species, country or overall. This lets people make better decisions when it comes to landscaping. You can see at a glance which species are in the most need. Conservation efforts are actually getting underway, however we still have a long way to go. Botanical gardens and conservancies are doing their part to mitigate the problem. However, it is going to take a massive effort of education and hands-on action to change the extinction tide and don’t assume that trees like oaks and magnolias are out of danger. There are actually species of both genera that are threatened.
How we can help save the trees
Planting trees is just a small part of what we can do to help save them. First of all you can conserve paper. Designate a spot in your home for paper that only has one side printed and use the blank side instead of a fresh sheet. Use cloth rags for clean-up instead of paper towels and cloth napkins add an elegant touch to any meal while conserving paper. Recycle cardboard boxes. Many areas have a collection area where you can bring your cardboard and they sort and bale it for reuse. Even our little rural community has locations where you can drop off broken down cardboard boxes. As much as I love books, I make a point to purchase the digital version unless it is something that I really, really want in the hardbound form. If there is a used version available, that is even better. Purchase sustainably grown or forest-friendly products such as shade-grown coffee. If you do not have the garden space for a tree, plant native shrubs, vines or perennials. They clean air just like trees do on a smaller scale. Houseplants clean the air indoors. If you live in an apartment, container plants are good choices.
Educate your community
Above all, be a local advocate for your community’s trees. Start a tree planting movement for your local businesses and help educate them on smart choices. There are non-native varieties that are invasive and should be avoided at all costs. Choose vulnerable species that are just as decorative, if you take the time to look for them. If I never see another Bradford pear for sale in a nursery, that will be just fine with me. This tree planting movement would be a good project for a high school club or a scout group. Every action you take helps, even if it on a small scale, so get involved and do your part to help save our trees.
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