Benefits of Trees
Trees provide many benefits to us every day. Trees are not just beautiful to look at and to enjoy the cool shade they provide us on a hot summer day. Consider the following:
Trees play a critical role in mitigating climate change
Trees gobble up carbon dioxide, and for that reason this may be the most important value of trees on a global scale. Carbon dioxide is the predominant greenhouse gas. As trees grow, they absorb carbon dioxide from the air, storing carbon in their tissues (leaves, trunks, branches, and roots). They release oxygen into the atmosphere.
Trees provide important health benefits
Pine, birch, and oak, give off volatile organic compounds called phytoncides that have antibiotic and antifungal qualities. When inhaled, they have been shown to boost people’s immune systems. Exposure to forests and trees has been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce stress, improve one’s mood, increase one’s ability to focus (even in children with ADHD), accelerate recovery from illness and surgery, increase energy levels, and improve sleep.
Trees clean the air
Trees can remove particulate matter, the kind of air pollution that is most dangerous to our lungs. Their leaves filter this dangerous pollution. But since most of the filtration occurs within 100 feet of a tree, this benefit is only appreciated if they’re planted near the people. So the more trees we have in Chatham’s downtown, parks, and neighborhoods, the greater the benefit to us.
Trees are home to many forms of wildlife we love
Many of us enjoy sightings of the wildlife that share the Cape with us. Trees are the source of life for many species. They provide food, nesting sites, and protection from the weather and predators. Even a single tree can provide vital habitat for countless species. An intact forest can do even more, creating a home for some of the most diverse and resilient webs of life on the planet.
Trees are cool-they cool the planet
Trees make our downtown areas more inviting and attractive and offer refuge from the summer heat. A new study (University of Wisconsin, March 25, 2019), shows the shade provided by a tree’s canopy can lower the temperature by 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
Trees absorb stormwater and clean our drinking water
Trees’ root systems absorb massive amounts of rainwater. This not only mitigates the potential damage caused by storms but also cleans the water as it makes its way to our aquifer. Leaf litter, trees’ natural mulch, helps the rainwater slowly soak into the ground. It also then helps to retain the moisture that soil organisms need to support plant growth and purify the water of nutrients.
Trees provide a sense of history
There are many notable trees in Chatham (pick up the brochure Walking Tour of Notable Trees in the Village). They have lived for many, many decades, perhaps even centuries. They are survivors of storms, the development around them, disease, and insect infestation.
Trees enhance property value
If you are a student of landscape design, you know that trees are most often used as an anchor to create an appealing design. Not only that, it’s been shown that mature trees on a property increase the property value of the home.
Threats to trees
Trees are resilient but they are not invincible
Trees, however, are threatened by drought, fire, insects, disease, and of course development. The Global Forest Watch reports that 15 billion trees are cut down every year. Using satellite imagery, they estimated that 59,305,290 acres of trees were lost in 2019. Here in the USA, we lose 36 million trees each year in urban and rural cities. In Massachusetts, according to MA Audubon’s 2020 report Losing Ground, we lose over 5,000 acres of forest annually to development. And on Cape Cod, it is estimated that we have lost 2,300 acres to development between 2001-2011 (Cape Cod Commission).