A story in USA Today this week announced that a study showed the United States experienced a greater percentage of forest loss from 2000 to 2005 than did any of the other top seven most heavily forested nations. Shame on us! How could this be? Why are we killing all the trees? Read on to see what the story had to say:
The United States lost more than 46,000 square miles of forest in those years, a size roughly equivalent to the state of Pennsylvania. That's about 6% of the nation's forested land.
"That's the most of the seven countries that have over 1 million square kilometers of forest," says study lead author Matthew Hansen of South Dakota State University.
Worldwide, researchers determined that the globe lost forest cover of nearly 400,000 square miles — roughly 3% of the world's forested areas — during the first half of the last decade. The other countries in the study were Canada, Russia, China, Brazil, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The one part of the contiguous USA that experienced the most forest loss was the Southeast, a large chunk of which lost more than 10% of its forest cover from 2000 to 2005, the year for which the most recent data were available.
Hansen points out that the forest loss in the USA isn't necessarily permanent: "This does not mean that (the forests) do not regenerate, and we make no statements whatsoever about sustainability," he says. "But, compared to other regions of the world, a lot is going on."
A lot is going on is an understatement! Why all this destruction to our trees? Paper! Paper is the number one cause of forest lost. Mom remembers being in the corporate world and people talking about saving paper so that they wouldn't kill any more trees. Kill them indeed!
What's that you say? You don't use a lot of paper in your everyday life? What about all the stuff you use that's made made from paper? Americans are obsessed with stuff at every level. Just think about all the 'disposable paper' you either use on a daily basis: toilet paper, paper towels, facial tissue, newspapers, magazines, take out food container, receipts, packaging. The list just goes on and on.
Most of these items are created from virgin paper meaning a tree was cut down just for the purpose of making that item. Clearly there are products on the marketplace that use recycled paper, even post-consumer recycled. This is the paper we should be using to create consumer goods. These are the products we should be buying if we want trees on our planet. But why do we need them so much? They're just trees, right?
The most important thing trees give us is oxygen. It doesn't even seem fitting to call oxygen (O2) a thing because next to water, we need it to live. Period. Everything else is purely secondary from a biological perspective. We are totally and completely dependent on plants and trees for oxygen and they are dependent on us. But why and how?
Take a deep breath. Suck in all that fresh, clean air and then let it all out. What comes out when you exhale? Good old CO2. But wait. Where did the oxygen you breath come from?In the carbon-oxygen exchange, or cycle as I call it, the exchange of CO2 from us to trees and of O2 from trees to us is continuous. Called respiration, the CO2 that we exhale and that trees use is as important to them as the O2 they give us to breathe. One cannot occur without the other so if we don't have trees we don't have oxygen. And that would be a problem.
In addition to the CO2 trees receive from us, they also absorb CO2 from other things, like automobiles, manufacturing, etc. It is when too much CO2 becomes trapped in the atmosphere that problems occur like they are today. One reason we are experiencing the climate changes we are is because we are cutting down trees at an alarming rate. Mom clearly remembers being in Costa Rica and watching as people clear cut the rainforest to make way for cattle ranches. Just think about that for a second. Old growth stands of trees being cut so that cows could graze on grasslands. Sounds ridiciulous, doesn't it? The same thing is happening all over the world as entire stands of forest are cut in the Amazon, Indonesia, and elsewhere. Without the trees, the world's climate problems are going to get worse.
But how many trees do we need? Clearly we don't need all the trees on Earth and even if we cut some down surely we could plant more, right? Wrong! An area of plants of about 58 square feet is needed to supply sufficient oxygen for just one person. Multiply that by 6 billion (and growing) and the figures are mind blowing. Hey wait! These figures don't even take into account the area of plants that pugs need. Keep multiplying people! Even planting new trees doesn't really fix the problem because new trees called seedlings, cannot absorb the CO2 that tall, old trees can. Replacing one with the other is not solving the problem.
But trees do even more for us than simply providing us with oxygen and absorbing CO2. Trees planted around your home can shade it, thus lowering your electricity bills because the need for air conditioning is lessened. They also slow stormwater runoff and protect the soil. By acting as natural reservoirs they protect watersheds, without which we wouldn't have clean water.
Trees clean our water and air by absorbing pollutants. Many animals call trees home, like my bird and squirrel friends, and many use tree berries as food. Where would all these animals go if they didn't have trees? I think you know the answer.
Let's not forget how beautiful and majestic trees are. What pug doesn't love to sit underneath a tree on a hot summer day and eat a Frosty Paw? Ahhh, the shade trees provide me is immeasureable. I wouldn't be able to stay outside for very long if it weren't for trees.
So on this Arbor Day, as the leaves on the trees are rustled by the gentle breeze, let's give thanks to trees everywhere. They are more important today than ever before.
I decided to give the tree in front of our house a big hug of thanks. Thank you my tree friend, for standing tall even when you were tired. For changing with the seasons despite your desire to move. For letting the mommy robins sing on your branches. And for giving me oxygen so that I may continue to live. I love you and can't imagine life without you.