Burbank: Just planting a tree can do a world of good

By John Burbank

My friend called me last week and invited me to the Climate March that Saturday in Seattle. I decided not to go. Maybe I just had enough marching, with the Women’s March the day after the presidential inauguration, and the March for Science earlier in April. These were good marches, protests and political celebrations. I was good with that. They were enough for me.

So I thought, what should I do for the climate?

The median strip on the east side of our house has three maples that I planted twenty-five years ago. They are doing just fine, providing shade and beautiful foliage. But I have been looking at the median strip on the north side for several years now, since my first efforts of planting, watering, and caring for some saplings had failed, leaving one tree doing quite well and the other three dead. Our new neighbors just planted some trees. Maybe that’s what I should do — plant some trees. It would be keeping up with the Jones in a good way!

I went to the local nursery and bought three healthy flowering crabapple trees, dug holes, planted them and watered them. So far, so good. Of course, only three days of showers and cool air have gone by. All that is good for these trees. They don’t take a lot of maintenance — just a good watering once a week.

Trees are good for us. Carbon dioxide is one of the major contributors to global warming and climate change. Trees trap carbon dioxide and “exhale” oxygen in return. A mature tree can absorb roughly 48 pounds of carbon dioxide a year, and in turn release enough oxygen to sustain two people.

Trees reduce runoff by storing water from rain. That makes a big difference in our rainy Northwest (45 inches of rain already since Oct. 1). Trees also absorb sound and reduce noise pollution. So if you live near a freeway, plant a couple of trees! If you want to cool off in the summer (whenever that comes), you will appreciate trees reducing the heat from streets and sidewalks.

Before you decide plant a tree in Everett, you should check in with the Everett Tree Committee. You can get a tree placed and planted free in your median strip under the Tree Program. It is simple: You fill out an application and the City of Everett purchases the tree, and digs and prepares the hole. Either you or the City’s Public Works staff plant the tree. You water the tree and it becomes your property and responsibility. The whole process is so easy it is almost cheating! (Find out more at tinyurl.com/EverettTreeProgram.)

The city of Lynnwood has a tree voucher program, so you can get a free tree for your yard or median strip. The money comes from fees paid by building developers who have removed trees in their projects. Mountlake Terrace has a good guide for tree planting. Bothell offers free trees for you to plant.

You can plant trees even if you live in an apartment with no yard or median strip of your own. Just two weeks ago, students from Horizon Elementary School in South Everett spent part of their spring break planting trees as part of a forest restoration project organized by the Snohomish Conservation District. Last year this little-known public entity planted 31,000 native trees and shrubs along streams, rivers and wetlands throughout Snohomish County and Camano Island. They had help from private landowners, volunteers from local schools and communities, and Washington Conservation Corps crewmembers.

It may seem counter-intuitive that we should focus on trees, when we live in the Northwest, surrounded by mountains and forests. But when you consider urban and suburban growth, trees have been losing out. Our forests are now on their third growth cycle, with smaller and less healthy trees. The giants are gone. So one way to take back a little of our natural heritage is to plant a tree. When you do, you are helping just a little to offset global warming. Plus, you are getting some exercise, your hands are getting dirty, and your quality of life is improved by the reality of that tree!

John Burbank is the executive director of the Economic Opportunity Institute, www.eoionline.org. Email him at john@eoionline.org.

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