Arbor Day: Earth Day’s Wingman

Leigh Greenwood is Director of Don’t Move Firewood, an international outreach and education campaign managed by The Nature Conservancy’s Forest Health Protection Program.

Everyone loves Earth Day, right? It’s a day to celebrate the magnificence of our planet – from the oceans to the mountain tops and every bit in between.

But in all the excitement surrounding Earth Day, many of us – environmentalists included – have lost touch with a much older celebration that falls just a few days later: Arbor Day. This year, let’s keep the spirit of Earth Day rolling through the whole week by also celebrating Arbor Day, which was founded a remarkable 141 years ago.

Starting Friday, April 26th and continuing through the weekend, millions of Americans will observe Arbor Day by planting new trees in their communities. This is an important way to give back to the planet because of all the benefits trees provide.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, a 20-year-old tree providing shade on private property can return to the homeowner an average of $102 in annual energy savings, while only costing $15 to plant and maintain. A public tree that same age, such as the ones you find along parkways or city street, returns $96 in annual energy savings, storm water runoff reduction, cleaner air, higher property values, and other benefits for every $36 spent on planting, mulching, pruning, and other care.

Over its lifetime, a large tree in the U.S. Northeast, for example, will provide almost $6,000 worth of benefits to those that live near it.

While planting trees is important to the well-being of our forests and street trees, it is just as critical to learn how to protect both new and older trees from damage by invasive insects and diseases. The death of large, mature trees due to these pests can be devastating to neighborhoods, parks and natural areas.

Over the last hundred years, invasive insects and diseases have killed tens of millions of trees in cities, towns and forests across the country. These tree-killing pests include Dutch elm disease, Asian longhorned beetle, emerald ash borer, thousand cankers disease, hemlock wooly adelgid, sudden oak death, Sirex woodwasp and many others.

Thankfully, with the help of ordinary citizens, the impacts of invasive insects can be curbed. In fact, 2013 has had a very solid start, with successes in both the fight against established pests and in critical new prevention efforts. This spring, the Asian longhorned beetle was declared eradicated in both New Jersey and Canada. And just last week, new preventative government regulations were published that are being hailed as a part of a far more comprehensive and cost effective approach.

Even with prevention methods improving this year, some tree pests and pathogens will inevitably have already arrived – or slip through the cracks in the future. You can help.

Follow these tips on Arbor Day, Earth Day, and every day to help keep our trees alive and thriving:

  • Buy your trees and plants from a reputable source, and purchase certified, pest-free nursery stock whenever possible.
  • Tree-killing pests can be found in a variety of wood products. Most problematic are firewood, brush, yard waste, tree debris and re-used wood packaging material. Avoid the long-range movement of these materials to help slow the spread of pests. Buy, use and dispose of these wood products locally.
  • Obtain firewood near the location where you will burn it – that means the wood was cut in a nearby forest, in the same county, or preferably within 10 miles from where you’ll have your fire.
  • Be on the lookout for invasive pests, and if you notice an insect or tree disease you don’t recognize, take a photo or obtain a specimen of it, and compare it to Web site photos of the suspected pest. (Here’s a good resource to help with identification).

[Image: Forest trail at Dolly Sods Wilderness South, West Virginia. Image source: Kent Mason]

If you believe in the work we’re doing, please lend a hand.

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