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How many trees do you need?

Food For Thought

Because I live in the woods with more than my share of trees, I forget that one of our environmental concerns is we don’t have enough trees to absorb the amount of carbon dioxide we put into the atmosphere. Whether happy coincidence or divine plan, it doesn’t matter, the fact that plants use carbon dioxide and manufacture oxygen holds the possible solution to the unbalance that is causing our environment to become less suitable for the sustenance of animal life—and that includes us humans.
Some time ago, I learned that seven mature trees per person are needed to keep the balance at a safe level. This would take care of the carbon dioxide that we breathe out as well as our estimated share of that produced by burning fossil fuels to run our automobiles, produce our electricity and power our factories. Other plants respire oxygen, but trees are by far the stars of the show. Think about this, are there seven mature trees on your property for each person in your family? If you live in town, probably not. If you have a lot of houseplants, they might possibly put out enough oxygen for a small family pet, such as a gerbil or parakeet. If you count all the people who live in apartments and condos in any town, then count the trees in the city park and on other public property, you can see there is a definite tree shortage for those people, even supposing those who live in traditional houses all have enough trees. From a distance, most of Iowa’s towns seem to be mostly trees, with the occasional church spire or water tower poking up through the branches, and you would think there were plenty of trees to go around. If you do the math you’ll find out differently.
Whenever I see a bulldozer clearing another building site of all plant life, especially large trees, I know it’s going to be a good many years before any new plantings are absorbing enough carbon dioxide and producing enough oxygen to take the place of those trees being so thoughtlessly and abruptly wiped out. The sad thing is that those bulldozed trees are usually further wasted by being burned. It seems to me that, if the existing trees are not the most desirable or growing where the builder would prefer them, they are at least better than nothing for the time it will take to grow replacements. I concede it may be essential to remove some trees in order to build on lots and some trees may make it impossible or difficult to use building equipment, but I doubt if it’s really necessary to remove all trees in order to build a house on a lot. The same lot was probably chosen for the way it looked before the bulldozer. Would a prospective homeowner really choose such a lot if they only saw it after it had been scraped bare of all vegetation?
When we built our house in 1971, we felt with 160 acres to choose from there was no justification for cutting down even one of the large, old oak, hickory or walnut trees that made up the majority of the timber here. A good many of those venerable hardwood trees were well over 100 years old and deserved to be left alone. We wanted to take advantage of the shade from the trees on the west side of the house and built close enough so the timber shaded most of the house and deck in the afternoon. Unfortunately, we apparently got a bit too close to one of the large oaks. After about 12 years, it began to die, possibly because too much of its root system had been disturbed by our construction and the changes imposed on the terrain. But that tree did survive for over 12 years, enough time for many of the young saplings in our woods to grow to a serviceable height and take over its job of purifying the air and providing oxygen.
Mankind destroys trees at an alarming rate, harvesting them for their wood. We use wood for so many things: buildings, furniture, toys, paper, the list gets longer every year. In hope of providing a solution, scientists have invented artificial trees– machines that clean the air but don’t add the oxygen back into the atmosphere as trees do. Unfortunately, the artificial trees require electricity to do their job. Aside from not producing oxygen, these machines have no way of using up the carbon dioxide as trees do, so disposing of the carbon dioxide collected is another problem.
I urge you to plant trees on your property. If you don’t have six mature trees for each member of your family, get busy. If you move away, the trees will still be doing their job no matter who lives there. Don’t wait for Arbor Day, many trees can be planted at nearly any time of the year.