Zimmerman: San José trees improve human health and save money
Anyone who has read Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” knows that humans take for granted the benefits and gifts of the trees around us. We underestimate their impact on our lives and the weight of our responsibility to protect them.
It looks like we are finally learning how important trees are, not only to the health of the planet, but especially to human health and well-being.
The right trees in the right place
The most important pledge to come out of the COP 26 climate summit was the pledge of countries representing 85% of the world’s forests to halt or reverse deforestation by 2030. The United States, as well as other major forest countries such as Brazil, Canada, and Indonesia, have all signed this agreement. President Joe Biden also pledged that the United States would lead by example and announced that it would spend $ 9 billion to conserve and restore forests.
This commitment, and the money to keep it, is a big step forward. Individual countries are going to have to be creative in how they approach climate change, as an international agreement is increasingly unlikely. Forests and trees are a great option.
Forests absorb about a third of the global CO2 produced each year. Deforestation has been a major contributor to climate change.
The fight to protect California’s trees
California has 33 million acres of forest, and we’re rightly proud to encourage visitors to visit places like redwoods. We conveniently forget, or don’t even know, that since the 1850s, 95% of California’s old-growth redwood forests have been cut down.
California can benefit from its forests in two ways. Reforestation is an option, although it may face challenges such as issues of location, water availability and loss of biodiversity. It is far better to focus on protecting the trees and forests we have and letting those areas expand naturally.
“California’s ancient redwoods, the tallest and oldest trees on the planet, store more carbon per acre of forest than any other forest in the world by far,” said Sam Hodder, CEO of Save the Redwood League. “More than the Amazon rainforest or the coniferous forests of the Pacific Northwest.”
Save the Redwoods League is currently raising funds to purchase five miles of undeveloped coastal forests in Mendocino County. The Lost Coast property is second-growth forest between 80 and 100 years old and is threatened with accelerated harvest or development. Saving these existing lands and letting them expand and interconnect with other protected lands is much better, cheaper and less maintenance than replanting.
Hodder noted that with accelerated protection and good management done in partnership with tribes, local communities and public agencies, the redwood landscape can age again and provide a vital ingredient in the fight against climate change.
The trees of San José
Trees in our communities are just as important to human health as vast tracts of forest hours away. Just being near green spaces is linked to better mental health, reduced stress, and better outcomes at work and school. Simply put, humans need nature, like trees, to thrive.
San Jose’s revised draft community forest management plan cites research that has even found that tree-lined streets contribute to healthier lifestyles. Unexpectedly, they are also host to fewer traffic accidents. There is even evidence that well-managed vegetation has a deterrent effect on crime.
Money might not grow on trees, but trees are one of those rare commodities that grow in value as they age. In fact, every street tree brings in almost six dollars in profit for every dollar invested.
San Jose’s Green Vision 2007 plan aimed to plant 100,000 trees. In 2014, the city, in collaboration with Our City Forest, planted a total of 12,289 trees which sequestered approximately 479.3 MT of CO2 equivalent. The city’s goal was to have all trees planted by 2022; however, an apparent lack of resources has meant that only between 15,000 and 20,000 trees have been planted so far.
Unfortunately, the management plan also revealed that the San Jose canopy cover has decreased by almost 2%, representing an area of approximately 2.7 miles. The main conclusions of the document are revealing. Above all, the city must act quickly to deal with the downward trend in the canopy. The biggest obstacle to this, besides the fractured collaboration between stakeholders, is the pervasive problem of money. Funding for planting and managing trees is well below what is needed.
Maybe we haven’t learned from “The Giving Tree” after all.
San José Spotlight columnist Erin Zimmerman is a climate reality leader in the Silicon Valley section of the Climate Reality Project. Erin, a longtime environmental and political activist, holds a doctorate in political science. His column appears every third Wednesday of the month. Contact Erin at [email protected].