“Young trees ‘eat’ atmospheric carbon like teenagers devour pizza,” wrote forester William Wade Key in a recent article for the Sacramento Bee. That one poignant statement tells us that re-foresting suburban turf could save us from global warming.
Is it realistic and feasible to re-forest 1 million acres, and will it happen fast enough to make a difference? Absolutely! The amount of time and money needed is infinitesimal in the context of its impact on the environment and our energy supply. In our case, we purchased thousands of shade tree “liners” as tall as 12 feet for our nursery in Pennsylvania. We planted them in our fields “bare root” (growers use machines to shake the dirt off of the trees’ root balls so the trees are very light and compact to ship). These same liners could be purchased, shipped via UPS, and planted in home lawns in 10 to 15 minutes.
Keep in mind this simple fact: the source of the plants is never-ending and diverse. Oaks are another great tree to use in a re-forestation effort. A mature oak tree drops thousands of acorns each fall. Most of the acorns never grow into a tree because they are a tasty treat for wildlife such as squirrels and deer. Yet if the acorns were collected before they were eaten by wildlife and then stored until spring, they could germinate into seedlings and be planted.
Four million homeowners will need to re-forest a quarter acre of their land. Re-foresting suburbia can be easily completed with the effects becoming apparent within 5 years, and success within 10 years by simply planting indigenous seedlings. The implications of re-foresting include environmental improvements such as reducing global warming, reducing the costs of yard mowing and maintenance, diminishing the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and improving air quality and aesthetics.
The first step is to plant indigenous shade trees that will form a canopy. For instance, in the northeastern portion of the country forests are comprised of beech, poplar, ash, maple, as well as other evergreen varieties. These trees can be planted on 15-20 foot centers so that the canopy will close in 10 years. As the trees begin to mature, the second step is to plant understory trees and shrubs such as dogwood, amelanchier, redbud, and laurel. These seedlings from 2 to 8 feet tall can easily be purchased mail order and shipped UPS in a bare root form. These plants are inexpensive and are easily planted. Ultimately, as the trees mature and create shade, the turf grass will disappear from lack of sunlight.
The positive environmental effects from re-foresting start with global warming. CO2 gases are now well known as the root cause of global warming. Scientist Roger Revelle began testing CO2 levels in the upper atmosphere in 1958. Revelle quickly established early in the experiment that the levels of CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere were going up at a significant rate. Yet he also noted variance in the rate: the levels dipped sharply during the summer months in the northern hemisphere. The reason for this fluctuation is that most of the earth’s landmass is in the northern hemisphere, and during the spring and summer months when plants come out of dormancy, they purify the air and take up vast quantities of CO2 gasses.
By re-foresting a million acres of home lawns , we can begin to stop and perhaps reverse the effects of global warming.