Friday, December 14, 2012

Putting your back into urban canopy

I’ve written before of local author Gwen Petreman’s passion for trees and her personal campaign to increase Barrie’s urban tree canopy to over 30% from its current level of just 25%.
Mature and growing trees affect more than just aesthetics; a glimpse at the real estate pages will show they raise the value of a home or street. But their benefits, both environmental and financial, stretch far beyond that.
Trees are nature’s sponges. Their leaves filter air pollutants like smog. Although their pollen may cause some seasonal allergy suffering, they provide a year-round benefit to asthmatics or anyone else sensitive to air quality. Their roots help to clean soil and the water passing through it that recharges the streams, lakes, and aquifers providing our drinking water.
Trees also provide hidden financial benefits. By catching and delaying rainwater, they reduce the cost to build, repair, and maintain storm water systems that comes out of your property tax bill. By cleaning air they reduce illness and absenteeism, and by cleaning water they help cut water treatment costs. Preventing soil erosion reduces street- and storm drain-cleaning costs, too.
They also improve shelter. When not cut down for materials or to make room for buildings, trees around our homes make life more affordable. In summer, leafy trees provide shade and evapotranspiration, lowering temperatures around your house and reducing cooling costs. In winter, trees shelter your home from winds that draw out heat, saving your heating bill. Over a 50-year lifespan, one tree provides the equivalent of $160,000 of environmental services by creating oxygen, cleaning water & air, and preventing soil erosion!
But urban trees struggle. Many are cut down for development, of course. Newly-planted trees take many years to establish. Without sufficient soil or unpaved space, tree growth will be stunted, and the limited root systems of younger trees are more vulnerable to climate change effects like drought. When large areas are developed all at once and planted with trees the same age, the city faces coordinated die-offs as they reach the end of their lifespan around the same time. And pests can be a huge burden, including the expected arrival of the emerald ash borer imperiling 180,000 Barrie trees.
Luckily there are crusaders like Gwen Petreman of Living Green bringing together partners to replace and expand our tree canopy. For their annual charity day on Monday, December 17th, Barrie Chiropractic & Health Services Centre at 55 Cedar Point Dr. will donate all proceeds to Living Green’s tree-planting initiatives. If you could use a massage, adjustment, or other wellness service, please drop in and help trees while getting help for yourself. The money raised will be paired with funds from Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority’s Watershed Program to pay for tree planting along the Huronia Buffer.
Watch this column for notice of the spring planting day when you can put your back into it, or on Monday, let Barrie Chiropractic & Health pamper your back and support trees at the same time!
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Expanding tree canopy benefits us all"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.