The great poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said of trees, "The wonder is, we see these trees, and we don't wonder more."
We live with trees, are surrounded by them, yet just how often do we stop to consider just how important they are to all life on earth?
Perhaps it's because they are becoming such a common part of our lives that we often take trees for granted. But doing so is increasingly at our peril. Things like clear cutting and invasive species are just some of the many threats to trees across the planet...threats we can neither ignore nor sustain.
Paul Maurer is Chairman of Re-Tree WNY. "A tree will actually be the opposite of the way we breathe. A tree will actually take what we exhale and use it for its own purpose, and it will exhale what we need. One tree can support ten people, so if you were to put a bubble over this tree along with ten other people, you wouldn't need oxygen to be pumped in, that would already be taken care of by the tree itself."
The arboreal impact on the rest of environment cannot be overstated. They provide food, help prevent soil erosion, and flooding and filter water.
The economic footprint on human society is also impressive. A relatively young tree of 50 years can have a big impact.
Maurer explains. "Its given us thirty $32,000 worth of oxygen, its actually caused air pollution to go down to the tune of about $60,000. Its prevented soil erosion to the extent of about $30,000. And it has also sequestered enough carbon to take it out of the atmosphere to be worth another $30,000. So we're talking about a tree that's only 50 years old, its given us $150,000 of value already."
Even in death, trees provide life for many species of insects and animals.
Doug O'Reilly is the Head Gardener at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens. "Trees eventually die, they fall down, and they decompose. And that makes an environment for, whether it be insects on the ground, or debris for animals, they can make their nests and things like that. It just works hand in hand, it's a lot better with trees. If you didn't have trees, you wouldn't have a lot of animals."
Trees also provide intangibles. They're aesthetically pleasing, just nice to be around. This is something that artists and writers have extolled for centuries, the effect on the human soul that a simple walk in the woods can provide.
O'Reilly agrees, "You just feel that much better, you see in a walk through the woods, you see animals interacting with vegetation, birds, you know, things like that. It just makes that a much more peaceful situation, instead of walking through a parking lot, and there's nothing there at all."
Trees are a renewable resource, and on an individual level, it's any easy thing for anyone to plant a tree.
Maurer tells 2 The Outdoors, "That little action alone, just putting a tree that might have a two-inch wide trunk in the ground is a huge, huge thing that you're doing. And you just don't even think of it that way. You think, OK, I put that tree in the ground, some day it will get big, that's great, move on. But what you've just done is you've created an incredible amount of value back to the environment by what you've just done."
So the next time you pass a tree, take pause and consider those deep roots. Those branches reaching to the sky. Those leaves spreading their beauty...and say a little thanks for all they give.
"You've got to look at trees as part of the human element, really, more than anything else," says Maurer. "It shouldn't be a separate situation, where you live your life and really the tree lives its life, and we can co-exist OK, and I don't need to do anything for it. Because it contributes so much to our lives, we really have to give it a lot more back."