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Posts Tagged ‘trees’

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This yew watercolor is one of many lovely illustrations by 19th century poet Rebecca Hey for an encyclopedia of trees. The rare book is reviewed by Maria Popova at Brainpickings. More images from Sylvan Musings, or, The Spirit of the Woods, here.

If you are not already following the blog or Twitter feed of Maria Popova at Brainpickings, you’re missing some very thoughtful commentary on the arts and sciences.

One of the many things I appreciate about her is the way she ties in related topics. For example, at the end of her post about 19th century poet/artist Rebecca Hey’s illustrations for an encyclopedia of trees, she suggests complementing the book with “Art Young’s imaginative Rorschach silhouettes of trees from the 1920s, Walt Whitman on the wisdom of trees, modern-day poetic naturalist Robert Macfarlane on what trees teach us about healthy relationships, and the inspiring illustrated story of Wangari Maathai’s tree-planting as resistance and empowerment, which made her the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, then revisit the stunning celestial art of the self-taught 17th-century German astronomer and artist Maria Clara Eimmart.” (Wow, talk about someone with a “catholic” taste!)

In her review, Popova quotes William Blake: ” ‘The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in the way. … As a man is, so he sees.’…

“Perched partway in time between Blake’s time and ours, and partway in sensibility between the poetic and the scientific, Sylvan Musings, or, The Spirit of the Woods (public library | public domain) is, as far as I am aware, the world’s first encyclopedia of wild trees.

“Having resolved to face the new year like a tree, I came upon this forgotten treasure through the joyous gateway of serendipitous discovery — a bygone pleasure of atomic literature rarely accessible in our search-governed digital culture, always corralling us toward what we already know we are looking for.

“In the midst of a research project involving Mary Shelley, I acquired a rare surviving copy of the pioneering 1849 encyclopedia to which Shelley spent five years contributing short biographies of eminent scientists; one advertisement in the front matter of this fragile pocket-sized time travel device caught my eye. …

“Of the very few female authors published in the nineteenth century, many appeared under male pseudonyms or ungendered initials. (This tradition would carry well into the twentieth century, leading the young Rachel Carson to publish her revolutionary marine masterpiece under the byline ‘R.L. Carson.’) …

“ ‘Mrs. William Hey’ is Rebecca Hey — a poet, painter, and amateur naturalist. (Lest we forget, all women of scientific bent had to be ‘amateurs’ by virtue of being excluded from both formal higher education and the scientific societies of the time. …

“Each chapter opens with one of Hey’s handsomely hand-colored engravings of the tree’s leaves at the tip of a branch and closes with one of her original poems celebrating the species. Nestled between is the natural history of the tree, punctuated by thoughtfully chosen quotations from literary classics, both poetry and prose. …

“I have endeavored to restore and digitize a number of them, making them available as prints, with proceeds benefiting the Arbor Day Foundation, whose noble reforestation work and sylvan stewardship are more and more needed as we watch fires consume the ancient forests that have long been the lungs of this irreplaceable planet.”

Don’t you love the way the character of this writer shines through in her review? She does request donations at her site, and I think I have borrowed enough from her today to spur me to go there now and do my duty.

Do check out the wonderful array of tree watercolors at Brainpickings, here.

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Photo: Murdo MacLeod/Guardian 
Helped by volunteers, Trees for Life planted nearly 2 million native trees on its Scottish projects.

Sometimes a tree has to be cut down because it’s rotting. But if it’s your tree, you can offset the loss for the planet by donating to an organization that plants lots of trees. Planting a lot of trees is important because it takes a long time before a bunch of little trees has the climate-saving benefits of one big tree.

I gave to the the Arbor Day Foundation last year after sadly saying good-bye to an old, old maple. Then the New York Times suggested Eden Reforestration Projects, which sounded excellent. The Times also provided names of organizations working on other climate-saving activities, including the Coalition for Rainforest Nations and a group providing fuel-efficient stoves in Kenya.

Patrick Barkham, reporting for the Guardian from Scotland, shows what can be done with a dedicated group of volunteers.

“The bracken-clad hills are marked ‘Dundreggan forest’ on the map but this Scottish glen is mostly stark Highland scenery: open, beautiful, and almost totally devoid of trees.

“On a steep-sided little gully, 40 years ago, a few baby silver birches escaped relentless browsing by red deer and grew tall. Now, the nearby path through the bracken is dusted with thousands of brown specks: birch seeds.

‘Each year, this “forest” produces trillions of birch seed,’ says Doug Gilbert, the operations manager for the charity Trees for Life at Dundreggan. ‘Until we reduce the deer pressure, not a single one has grown into a tree. Once we get the deer population right, this forest will absolutely take off. It’s starting to do that now.’

“The charity purchased the Dundreggan hunting estate 11 years ago. Slowly – ‘at tree speed,’ smiles Gilbert – it is rewilding 4,000 hectares (10,000 acres) of this degraded Highland landscape, restoring a diversity of native trees, scrub and associated life, from the dark bordered beauty moth to black grouse and, yes, red deer. …

“During the general election campaign, politicians desperately tried to outbid each other with tree-planting pledges. Who doesn’t love a tree? More trees can tackle the climate crisis – absorbing carbon dioxide – and the biodiversity crisis. But Trees for Life’s efforts reveal it is not quite so simple.

“Since Victorian times, when the sheep estates that followed the Highland clearances were replaced by more lucrative deer hunting estates, the landscape, and economic model, has been shaped by red deer. Around Dundreggan there are also non-native sika and roe deer. …

“The first step at Dundreggan has been to increase deer culling. Ecologists calculate that a red deer population of five per sq km in the wider landscape will allow natural regeneration; in many Highland regions it is 20. But culling deer is controversial because the value of stalking that estates base on deer numbers.

“Trees for Life has proceeded slowly with culling, seeking positive dialogue with neighbouring stalking estates. They’ve also tried non-lethal methods such as bagpipe-playing volunteers acting as nocturnal deer scarers. Trees and deer can coexist and Dundreggan’s deer population is now at a level where some young birches, pines, rowans and junipers will grow tall. …

“All the trees come from Scottish seeds – meaning they are suited to Highland climates and species, as well as being free of novel diseases. Half have been grown from seeds collected around Dundreggan. Its on-site nursery bristles with 94,000 saplings.

“Seed-collecting is not as simple as it sounds. Seed must come from a wide variety of individual trees to ensure genetic diversity. Cones from Scots pines have to be harvested before they drop to the ground, so specialist tree-climbers are employed. Trees for Life specialises in growing non-commercial high-mountain species such as woolly willow and dwarf birch. Surviving specimens are often only found on cliffs and crevices – with seeds or cuttings only retrievable by specialist climbers.

“Because of the deer grazing, every sapling is planted within a fenced enclosure (costing £10 [$12.79] per metre). Fencing is ‘a little bit of an admission of failure,’ says Gilbert. In the long term, when reducing deer numbers becomes less controversial, trees won’t need fences. Gilbert hopes the fences will last 30 years, when the well-established trees and scrub will survive browsing deer.” More.

(By the way, does anyone remember deer stalking in the children’s classic Wee Gillis?)

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Photo: Melanie Stetson Freeman/ Christian Science Monitor
Pruning trees in Baltimore helps to keep them healthy. “We are making a difference,” says Erik Dihle, arborist for the city of Baltimore. … “It ties into social equity, into climate adaption, everything.”

The value of tree canopies in cities is not a new topic at this blog. I’ve written often about efforts around the world to capture the physical- and mental-health benefits of urban forests (for example, in 2014, 2017, and last summer).

I’m not sure, though, that I ever knew how forward-thinking Baltimore has been, a city that was recently disparaged by a kind of leader unfamiliar with actual leadership.

Stephanie Hanes writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “From his headquarters office, Erik Dihle drives into what has become one of the most monitored forests in the United States.

“He begins to point out the trees: There is a tulip poplar, as big as the ones George Washington planted at Mount Vernon. There are the blossoming cherries, with a cotton-candy display that rivals their famous compatriots down the road at the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. And there is a white oak, Maryland’s state tree, with its branches gnarling horizontally for yards.

“ ‘This is a good-size one,’ he says, getting out of his truck to pace the area of shade created by the tree’s canopy. ‘I’d be surprised if it was less than 150 years old.’ …

“Mr. Dihle’s forest is in the city. He is the arborist and the head of forestry for the city of Baltimore, which means he monitors all the trees here – those growing in shady parks, in metal grates along busy streets, in backyards, and in relatively untouched forest patches dotting the municipality. Together, these trees make up what is called the city’s ‘urban forest.’ …

“With concern growing about climate change and rapid worldwide urbanization, city forests have emerged as one widely touted solution to a host of social and environmental challenges. Municipalities from Barcelona, Spain; to Melbourne, Australia; to Chicago have put urban canopy coverage at the center of their long-term strategic plans. Community groups focusing on planting, maintaining, and saving trees have blossomed across the U.S. In 2015, the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Cities named increasing green canopy coverage as one of its top 10 urban initiatives.

“Yet at the same time, the U.S. Forest Service, which in the past decade has also upped its focus on urban forests, has found that American cities are losing trees – and quickly. … Urban regions showed a particular decline, along with an increase in what the researchers call ‘impervious surfaces’ – in other words, concrete.

“But not, it turns out, in Baltimore.

“Here, the net tree canopy coverage has increased. Not by a lot, Mr. Dihle is quick to point out – only from 27% of the city’s land coverage to 28% – and not because Baltimore hasn’t lost trees. It has. But overall the tree canopy here has grown, which means that Mr. Dihle has found himself presiding over one of the more successful efforts in the U.S. to preserve and improve the urban forest. …

“New technology has let researchers better understand the urban ecosystem – not just how trees thrive or fail in a city, but how they intersect with humans.

‘[Trees] impact work productivity, wildlife habitats, air pollution removal, carbon sequestration, energy use,’ says David Nowak, senior scientist with the U.S. Forest Service who authored the recent national report on tree canopy loss. … ‘We should be smart about this whole process and use nature to make our lives better.’

Much of the understanding of how, exactly, trees affect everything from climate to criminal justice stems from a technological breakthrough pioneered in Baltimore. …

“By the 1990s, satellite imagery allowed governmental agencies such as NASA to produce visible images of Earth and to show on various scales where trees existed. But there was a limit to those pictures, explains Morgan Grove, a scientist with the U.S. Forest Service who has worked in Baltimore since 1999. Because the data were recorded in pixels, not physical parcels, it was difficult to identify, say, the owner of a particular tree, or to compare what was happening from one city block to another.

“In 2006, though, the Forest Service, working with researchers from the University of Vermont’s spatial analysis lab, put together a new type of land cover map in Baltimore using a combination of aerial imagery, light-reflecting technology, and high-resolution landowner data. This novel approach not only allowed a closer look at trees, it also let scientists synchronize forest maps with other information that was also newly computerized and manipulable – everything from health records to census figures, crime statistics to property values.”

Learn about the amazing array of data they were able to collect, how data helped the city prevent nascent problems like storm sewer overflow, and how the community has organized to protect and expand urban forest benefits, here.

By the way, I thought the photographer on this story, Melanie Stetson Freeman, did an especially good job capturing the faces of these tree huggers. It helps one understand that the individual and the things an individual cares about are what improve the world.

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Photo: Loren Kerns, Flickr
Many carbon offset projects reduce carbon in the atmosphere by protecting forests. Cool Effect offers other, carefully vetted offsets. The average American creates 17 tons of carbon pollution every year, so at $5 t0 $13 a ton, offsetting your footprint is a real deal.

When an arborist came to our house to remove a dangling limb on our big old tree, I was so sad to learn that the whole tree was diseased and had to come down. Not only was it beautiful, it was removing carbon from the atmosphere, which helps reduce global warming. I made a donation to the the Arbor Day Foundation, as an offset, but that’s not as good as keeping an ancient tree.

Here is what a recent episode of the radio show Living on Earth had to say about some good carbon offsets.

“Carbon-intensive activities, including global air travel, have been growing for decades. For individuals and companies interested in reducing their carbon footprints, carbon offsets promise to mitigate the damage caused by flying and other emissions sources through the investment in projects that either sequester carbon, like reforestation or forest conservation, or develop alternative energy infrastructure that reduce future emissions. Cool Effect CEO Marisa de Belloy discusses her non-profit crowdfunding platform that sells these offsets with host Bobby Bascomb.

“BASCOMB: [What] do people choose to offset with your carbon emissions offset program? …

“DE BELLOY: They’ll offset a flight, they’ll offset their trips to work; some will offset their entire year. The average American emits about 17 tons of carbon pollution every year. And so some people like to wipe that clean by offsetting that at Cool Effect. These are people who are committed environmentalists who are already doing what they can do in their daily lives, to reduce their impact. And that might be eating less meat, it might be traveling less often, it might be having an electric car or solar panels. …

“BASCOMB: [Give] me some examples of projects that participate.

“DE BELLOY: [Each] of these projects will have met the requirements of an independent standard, they’ll have been verified independently of us, and then we do our own very deep due diligence that lasts a couple of months on each project, to make sure that they’re doing exactly what they say they’re doing. …

“We have a project, for example, in Vietnam that installs biogas digesters, which is a very simple technology that takes animal waste, and turns it into clean cooking fuel for homes. We have a project in the United States that’s protecting the forest, or another one protecting grasslands; a project in Honduras that is providing clean cookstoves for families down there who were basically dying from air pollution from cooking over open fires. …

“They all are truly additional, meaning they’re truly having an impact on the planet and then they also all have their own set of co-benefits. [For] the cookstove project, it’s the health of the families. In some cases, it’s local jobs. In some cases, it’s protecting wildlife or a whole forest ecosystem and the people who live there. [The] key thing that underlies all the projects is that we have made sure that they’re actually doing the work of verifiably reducing carbon emissions.

“BASCOMB: And how do you actually verify that? I mean, how do you know that this project wouldn’t have been done anyway without this money? …

“DE BELLOY: [A] couple of different ways, but one is you have to understand what their financial model is, both when they started the business and currently. Is there a profitable way to do what they’re doing without the revenue from carbon offsets? And if the answer is yes, then the project is likely not additional. Another way to look for additionality is regulatory additionality. So, is there a law in place that’s requiring this business or this nonprofit to do what it’s doing? …

“BASCOMB: And then once you’ve identified a good project to work with, how do you guarantee the longevity of that? I mean, I saw that you have one in Brazil, protecting the Amazon, and Brazil is a famously lawless area, especially with the new president that really doesn’t encourage conservation. How can you be sure that those trees will still be standing 10 years from now, or that the landowner won’t take that money and then clear cut in a different area?

“DE BELLOY: [On] the trees still standing portion, that’s built into the methodology, so they will no longer be able to offer credits if those trees start disappearing. And each of the methodologies includes a certain buffer amount of trees, you know, because trees do die, and you can have natural fires and that sort of thing. And we take a particularly conservative approach to these projects, if there’s any doubt that, you know, the cook stove was in use, or the tree was still standing, or, you know, the animals were still having access to these grasslands, then a credit is not issued for that amount. So wherever there’s doubt, the credit is not issued. …

“[The cost for an offset] goes from about $5 to about $13 a ton. So if you think about the average American having 17 tons of carbon pollution every year, it’s a really reasonable amount of money to spend to wipe away that impact that we’re all having.” More from Living on Earth, here.

The best example I know of someone practicing what they preach is young Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who is traveling from Canada to Chile without using fossil fuels. Read this.

Photo: New York Times
So as not to use any airplane’s fossil fuels, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg crossed the Atlantic Ocean aboard the Malizia II, a zero-emissions racing yacht.
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Photo: Doug Struck
Access to streams in Whitefish, Montana, was threatened by development, so the town used the increasingly popular strategy of buying rights to the forest.

People can change their minds.

That’s what happened in Montana as property-rights advocates began to see that their water bills would be cheaper if they let government entities buy rights to forests on private lands.

Doug Struck writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “When the appetite for high-priced housing threatened the water source of [Whitefish, Montana], the residents raised taxes and spent money on forests. Three years later, when rising tourism upped the summer demand for water, more money was raised to buy more forests.

“The equation used by local and state officials, nonprofit groups, and private residents was straightforward: It’s cheaper and easier to have the forests cleanse the water than to throw chemicals and machinery at the task.

“ ‘Protecting forests of watersheds makes economic sense,’ says John Muhlfeld, the mayor of this town of 7,000 nestled in Montana’s Rocky Mountains. ‘And it’s a much different way of traditionally looking at a public water supply infrastructure.’ …

“As town planners look at the high cost of building water filtration plants and operating them year after year, the thought of letting the trees do it becomes a budgetary no-brainer.

“And the trees do it well. The natural filtering process that rain and snow undergo in seeping through forest canopies and forest beds, slowly toward streams and lakes, is so effective that five major cities in the United States – New York, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon – can pump unfiltered water from distant pristine watersheds to customer homes.

“New York is the poster-city example in this country. Twenty years ago, the city engaged in a wrenching political battle over whether to build a $6 billion water filtration plant that would cost $300 million per year to filter water for the city. Instead it gambled and spent $2 billion to protect the forested watershed in the Catskill Mountains, 125 miles away, the source of 90% of the city’s water. It was a bold and controversial decision – and it worked.

“ ‘Here we are, 20 years later they have been meeting the safe drinking water standards through tropical storms and superstorms,’ says Paul K. Barten, one of the junior architects of the original Catskills program who now chairs a current National Academy review of the system. …

‘People are not necessarily doing it because they love trees. … ‘They are doing it because it’s a lot less expensive.’ …

“The state and national park programs that began to emerge in the U.S. 150 years ago, and evolved at the prodding of such visionaries as John Muir, Frederick Olmsted, Gifford Pinchot, and Teddy Roosevelt, now preserve 13% of U.S. land, according to the World Bank. Another 56 million acres are held by various forms of private or public ‘trusts’ that allow some use but prohibit development, according to the Land Trust Alliance in Washington, D.C.

“In the case of Whitefish, that meant keeping land for logging. The Haskill Basin northeast of town was forestland owned for more than a century by the Stoltze lumber company. …

“Over the years, development pressures loomed larger as Whitefish blossomed into a high-end, expensive resort town sprouting multimillion-dollar second homes. … Stoltze ‘could have gotten an offer that they couldn’t refuse,’ says Kris Tempel, a biologist at the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks agency. …

“The Trust for Public Land … helped bring together $9 million from federal conservation funds. And Stoltze agreed to take a $4 million cut on the $21 million price of giving away development rights to its 3,000 acres in Haskill Basin. …

“That left a shortfall of $8 million. City residents had balked before about increasing the town’s ‘resort tax’ on restaurants, lodging, and retail. But in 2015, after a ‘Vote Yes for Water’ campaign by the mayor and others, residents gave an overwhelming 84% approval to a 1% tax increase. Late last year, the purchase of another 13,000-acre property helped protect a watershed for Whitefish Lake, a secondary source of water for the town.

” ‘The public support is a change in a place where encroachment on private land is viewed with suspicion, says [Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks resource conservation manager Alan Wood]. ‘Twenty years ago there was a lot of opposition’ to these proposals.’

“But this deal ‘gave everyone what they wanted,’ says Mr. Wood. The town kept its access to clean and cheap water. Stoltze can keep harvesting timber on the land, employing an average of 110 workers.”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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Photo: Ville de Paris/Apur/Céline Orsingher
The trees in this rendering of Paris’s Opera Garnier would take the place of an existing bus-parking area. Big ideas are necessary if the city is to meet its ambitious greening goals, part of the international Paris Agreement to tackle global warming.

A January article by Feargus O’Sullivan at CityLab, showed artist renderings like the one above as part of a plan to bring more trees into Paris. The announcement came before Notre Dame burned, so I hope plans are still going forward. Here is the concept.

“Some of Paris’s most treasured landmarks are set to host the city’s new ‘urban forests,’ ” writes O’Sullivan.

“Thickets of trees will soon appear in what today are pockets of concrete next to landmark locations, including the Hôtel de Ville, Paris’s city hall; the Opera Garnier, Paris’s main opera house; the Gare de Lyon; and along the Seine quayside.

“The new plantings are part of a plan to create ‘islands of freshness’—green spaces that moderate the city’s heat island effect. It also falls into an overall drive to convert Paris’s surface ‘from mineral to vegetal,’ introducing soil into architectural set-piece locations that have been kept bare historically. As a result, the plan will not just increase greenery, but may also provoke some modest rethinking of the way Paris frames its architectural heritage. …

“[Such plans] are necessary if Paris is to meet its ambitious greening goals. By 2030, city hall wants to have 50 percent of the city covered by fully porous, planted areas, a category that can include anything from new parkland to green roofs. ..

“The city imagines turning the square in front of city hall into a pine grove, while future springtimes will see the opera house’s back elevation emerge from a sea of cherry blossom. The paved plaza at the side of the Gare de Lyon will become a woodland garden, while one of the two former car lanes running along the now pedestrianized Seine quays will be taken over by grass and shrubs.

“Such plans will require more than sticking saplings in the ground. Creating the new opera house cherry orchard will mean displacing a current parking lot used by tourist buses, a process that the city plans to repeat elsewhere. …

“Intriguingly, the urban forest plans are a slightly different take on the classic Parisian aesthetic. Sites like the areas around the opera and Hôtel de Ville don’t need beautifying — they are already grand, charismatic showcases for the elaborate, even fanciful historic buildings that they host.

“In the past, however, they have been left bare, or at most … fringed with small lines of trees that have been rigorously pruned and trained until they form a narrow, wall-like rampart. …

“Given how charming the designs appear, this seems unlikely to be controversial, but it does suggest a more rustic, quasi-natural approach to greenery than has previously been the rule in Paris.”

There is more information here. And maybe when blogger A Pierman Sister returns to Paris, we will get an eye-witness account of the city’s progress on its plans.

 

 

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Photo: BioCarbon Engineering
Drones can have a peaceful purpose. These are fighting climate change by “bombing” seeds into places that need trees. Trees are essential for decreasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Drones can have peaceful purposes. Some folks use them for photography or research on birds. Others have tapped drones to plant the trees our planet needs to reduce carbon dioxide and combat global warming.

Leo Shvedsky writes at Good, “Technology is the single greatest contributor to climate change but it may also soon be used to offset the damage we’ve done to our planet since the Industrial Age began.

“In September 2018, a project in Myanmar used drones to fire ‘seed missiles’ into remote areas of the country where trees were not growing. Less than a year later, thousands of those seed missiles have sprouted into 20-inch mangrove saplings that could literally be a case study in how technology can be used to innovate our way out of the climate change crisis.

“ ‘We now have a case confirmed of what species we can plant and in what conditions,’ Irina Fedorenko, co-founder of Biocarbon Engineering, told Fast Company. …

“According to Fedoranko, just two operators could send out a mini-fleet of seed missile planting drones that could plant 400,000 trees a day — a number that quite possibly could make massive headway in combating the effects of manmade climate change.

“The drones were designed by an ex-NASA engineer. And with a pressing need to reseed an area in Myanmar equal to the size of Rhode Island, the challenge is massive but suddenly within reach. Bremley Lyngdoh, founder and CEO of World Impact, says reseeding that area could theoretically house as many as 1 billion new trees. …

“For context, it took the Worldview Foundation 7 years to plant 6 million trees in Myanmar. Now, with the help of the drones, they hope to plant another 4 million before the end of 2019.

“Myanmar is a great case study for the project. In addition to the available land for the drone project, the nation has been particularly hit by the early effects of climate change in recent years. Rising sea levels are having a measurable impact on the population. In addition to their ability to clear CO2 from the atmosphere, healthy trees can also help solidify the soil, which can reduce the kind of soil erosion that has been affecting local populations in Myanmar.”

Adele Peters at Fast Company explains, “The drones first fly over an area to map it, collecting data about the topography and soil condition that can be combined with satellite data and analyzed to determine the best locations to plant each seed. Then the drone fires biodegradable pods — filled with a germinated seed and nutrients — into the ground. For the process to succeed in a mangrove forest, several conditions need to be right; if the tide comes in unexpectedly, for example, the seeds could wash away. In tests, Biocarbon Engineering has looked at which species and environmental conditions perform best.

“If drones do begin to replant entire forests, humans will still play a critical role. That’s in part because some seeds don’t fit inside the pods. But people living nearby also need a reason to leave the trees standing. ‘The project in Myanmar is all about community development and enabling people to care for trees, providing them with jobs, and making environmental restoration in a way that it’s profitable for people,’ says Fedorenko. ‘The forest didn’t vanish by itself—the forest was cut down by local people.’ ”

More at Good and Fast Company.

Hat tip: Maria Popova on Twitter.

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Photo: Alfredo Sosa
The newest solar farm of Florida Power & Light Company [FPL] is equipped to generate 74.5 megawatts of power, enough for approximately 15,000 Florida homes.

Large numbers of Americans are not as concerned as I am about fossil fuels and how they hurt the planet and until recently have not supported sustainable energy. But as the cost of renewable power comes down, many of them are giving wind and solar a new, pragmatic look.

Eva Botkin-Kowacki writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “There’s a new crop sprouting in southern Florida. Amid fields of sweet corn, squash, and okra dotting the landscape outside Miami, rows and rows of solar panels now soak up the Florida sunshine. …

“Despite being the Sunshine State, Florida has long lagged when it comes to tapping into the abundant rays overhead. But now that is changing as utility companies in the state have begun to recognize solar power as a vital component of a diverse energy future. …

“As solar has become more economically viable, the state’s utility companies now see opportunity more than competition in the technology Florida utilities’ newfound embrace for solar power echoes trends seen across the country, as the renewable energy source has shifted from a fringe indulgence for wealthy environmentalists to becoming a conventional part of power production. …

“With abundant sunshine, Florida ranks ninth in the United States for solar potential. But as recently as 2015, just one-tenth of a percent of the state’s power came from the sun. …

“Solar is still a bit player in Florida. At the end of 2018, solar power made up just 1.07 percent of the state’s energy portfolio, according to the [Solar Energy Industries Association] reports. But the rapid acceleration reflects a broader shift happening nationally. …

“Some of the ways Florida stands out among states make it a particularly good indicator of the renewable energy’s newfound status as mainstream. Many leading solar energy states, such as Massachusetts, Vermont, and California, have installed solar as part of a legislative push to diversify the energy sector in pursuit of emissions reductions. Policymakers in Florida, however, have not set specific renewable energy requirements or even aspirational goals. …

“The utilities want to maintain their control over the market, says Professor Fenton of the University of Central Florida. In 2016, they fought to amend a law that required them to purchase the electricity generated by customers’ rooftop panels at the net retail rate. … The recent foray into solar is a testament to the increasing economic viability of solar power. …

“ ‘[In 2016], the price point was just becoming right for us to be able to have it make economic sense for our customers for us to go and begin building large solar energy centers,’ FPL spokeswoman Alys Daly says.” More here.

One thought: As my friend Jean, of the environmental-education nonprofit Meadowscaping for Biodiversity, reminds me, it’s important not to cut down trees for solar arrays. Trees help the environment even more than solar energy. We need to keep the big picture in mind.

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Large-scale solar “farms” are becoming the norm across the country. It’s best to put them on places that are already treeless. We need trees to absorb carbon and give us oxygen.

There’s an organization I follow on twitter, @ecorinews, that has made me more cautious about the renewable energy I advocate. I love that people are using more solar energy, but it should not be at the expense of trees, which are also important in controlling climate change. There are plenty of buildings and already empty spaces where panels could go.

Still, it’s heartening to see communities embracing sustainable energy, and I liked a story from Vermont about strange bedfellows getting the message and working together on solar — on a landfill.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling wrote about the collaboration at the Valley News in September.

“As Vermont’s ever-shifting energy landscape continues to shake up the renewable energy sector, a community solar array coming online this month will showcase a new twist on existing financial models.

“ ‘This is a hybrid,’ said Dori Wolfe, whose company, Wolfe Energy in Strafford, has purchased two shares — at a cost of $2,784 each — of the 185-kilowatt array, which is sited beside a closed landfill site just off Route 113 in Post Mills.

“Community solar arrays — those which serve multiple customers, some of whom might not have solar-friendly homes — are nothing new in Vermont. …

“The nearly finished ‘Thetford-Strafford Community Solar’ array is designed to generate 230,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity during its first year, enough to power about 35 average Vermont homes.

“But it differs from projects in neighboring towns because it will be the first solar farm to serve a mix of customer sectors — the array is a partnership between residential customers, a commercial farm, and the town of Thetford itself. …

“Wolfe said that, among the 25 member-owner shareholders, the commercial entity — Dave Chapman’s Thetford-based Long Wind Farm — acts as the anchor, and purchased enough of the roughly 185 shares on offer to create a critical mass that allowed area residents to buy into the entity, ‘Thetford Strafford Community Solar LLC.’

“The shareholders (who live in Thetford, Strafford and Norwich) expect to recoup their investment and then some through reduced electric bills — about 85 percent of the electricity produced at the site will be sold to Green Mountain Power through the state’s net-metering program, which guarantees customers a minimum rate for feeding solar energy back into the grid.

“The remaining 15 percent of the power will be sold to the town of Thetford at 90 percent of the normal utility rate, which Wolfe said will exert downward pressure on the property tax rate. …

“Wolfe said she hopes that the Post Mills project will lead to a second phase in which more solar is installed on top of the adjacent landfill.

“Though having more solar options is expected to help more Vermonters access renewable energy, a report released earlier this summer by the Energy Action Network suggests that more regulatory action will be needed to get the state on pace for its ambitious goal of achieving 90 percent renewable energy by 2050.

“The state has made progress — in 2017, Vermont energy use was 20 percent renewable, up from 12 percent in 2010. But it is significantly off pace. … In 2017, the rate of newly added capacity was down 30 percent as compared to 2016, and new wind generation has seen an even steeper decline, according to the report.

“There are several reasons for the slowdown. … A new, 30 percent federal tariff on solar panels produced overseas [has] affected pricing, leaving solar projects looking for new ways to make the numbers work.” More.

If you are interested, click here to see what Rhode Island is doing to encourage siting of solar arrays on developed lands, like the landfill used in the Vermont story.

Does your community have a policy to spare forests from being taken down for the otherwise worthy purpose?

Photo: Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News
The Office of Administration, featuring the solar array below, is one of three Rhode Island government buildings to join the Lead by Example initiative.

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Photo: Furkan Latif Khan/NPR
Jadav Payeng, “The Forest Man of India,” has planted tens of thousands of trees over the course of nearly 40 years. He has made bloom a once desiccated island that lies in the Brahamputra river, which runs through his home state of Assam.

When we are pummeled by the evil around us, as we have been this past week, it’s hard to hold on to the credo that small acts of good move mountains. But they do. There are way more people practicing random acts of kindness every day than there are shooters, and when good people stand up, they make a difference.

Consider the “Forest Man of India,” a humble farmer from a marginalized community who made the desert blossom like a rose, and the Vancouver immigrant whose can collection has been contributing thousands of dollars to fighting cancer.

Leyland Cecco writes at the Guardian about the Canadian immigrant who gets a big kick out of raising money to fight cancer — one disposable can at a time.

“Nearly every weekday over the past two decades, a Canadian woman has dropped by the offices of a cancer foundation in Vancouver to make a donation. The money, earned by collecting cans and bottles, rarely comes to more than $10 a time.

“But staff at the BC Cancer Foundation recently calculated that Gia Tran’s 21 years of donations have totaled more than $15,000 – a testament to what they say is the ‘kindness of her heart.’ …

“Each day, Tran, 62, walks the streets of downtown Vancouver, hunting for discarded cans and bottles.

“Summer is a more bountiful time for her, when most of the city is out in the sun, enjoying the parks. But she persists with the task even in the damp, chilly winters of Canada’s west coast.

“ ‘My kids say: ‘”Mom, I don’t want you to go outside. It’s too cold,” ‘ Tran told the CBC. ‘I say: ‘”No, I go. I want to help people. I want to go to the hospital – cancer. I help people.” ‘ …

“Sarah Roth at the BC Cancer Foundation told the CBC: ‘No matter what kind of day you’re having, when Gia comes in, you forget about it and you just focus on her warmth and her laughter and her true benevolence.’ ” More.

And here is Julie McCarthy of National Public Radio on the Forest Man of India.

“Jadav Payeng has single-handedly changed the landscape in his state of Assam. Payeng, 58, is reclaiming an island in the mighty Brahmaputra river where increased flooding has changed the flow and built up sandbars along the long stretch of the river that runs through the middle of Assam. …

“When Payeng was a boy, the son of poor a buffalo trader, this strip of land in the middle of the river was attached to the mainland. Erosion from powerful river waters of the Brahmaputra severed it. He bends down to pick up a handful of earth to explain how the island’s landscape has changed.

” ‘Earlier, this was all sand. No trees, no grass — nothing was here. Only driftwood. Now, seeds of grass carried downriver from China wash up, and pollinate, on their own.’

“Today fields of swaying grasses stretch into the distance. Along with emerald pastures dotted with cows, cotton trees stand straight in rows as far as the eye can see — ‘excellent plywood,’ Payeng says. …

” ‘First with bamboo trees, then with cotton trees. I kept planting — all different kinds of trees,’ Payeng says.

‘It’s not as if I did it alone,’ says the self-styled naturalist.

‘You plant one or two trees, and they have to seed. And once they seed,’ he adds reverentially, ‘the wind knows how to plant them, the birds here know how to sow them, cows know, elephants know, even the Brahmaputra river knows.’ “

Photo: LifeDaily
Gia Tran has donated $15,000 to the BC Cancer Foundation over 21 years in $10 increments from recycled cans. She takes them to the return depot on foot. “On the bus, I only get one bag, not two bags. I walk, I don’t care.” 

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Photo: Storify
Mudslides in Haiti in 2011. Reforestation of the once lush island is badly needed, but how can people in poverty wait decades for results when a sapling could provide charcoal for a hungry family?

Recently, I read a book that I recommend highly. It’s Apricot Irving’s memoir The Gospel of Trees. I wrote the following about it on GoodReads.

Author Apricot Irving’s parents were missionaries in Haiti for several years starting in the 1970s, and Apricot’s memoir evokes what the experience meant for her as a child, a teenager, and an adult. The vividness of her writing benefits from the fact that both parents kept diaries. Her own journal, which she started at a very young age, also gives both happy and bitter memories remarkable immediacy.

Apricot’s counterculture parents were people used to hiking long distances and sleeping under the stars. They shunned middle-class materialism and thought nothing of raising children in a shack with an outhouse. (The family eventually included three daughters.) They got religion at a point in their marriage when Apricot’s mother was fed up with Apricot’s father and his remoteness. She was ready to split. A pamphlet left by her mother-in-law led to her epiphany.

When the church the couple joined needed help at a medical mission in Haiti, Apricot’s father (a hard-working farmer and forest ranger) found the mission’s reforestation sideline appealing. Off they all went to save the poor people and tell them what was needed.

Over the years, the family began to see that that’s not how development is successful. They learned what Paul Farmer of Partners in Health had been preaching for decades in Haiti — namely that the local people must lead. (Oddly, the famous doctor is never mentioned, suggesting to me there’s some enmity.)

The Irving family lived through years of getting trees started in the ravaged, depleted soil, where mudslides, destruction, and death were the norm, only to see the new growth eaten by goats or cut down for charcoal — over and over and over and over.

They lived through revolutions, political upheaval (sometimes aggravated by US military action), danger, and crushing disappointment, coming back to help any way they could after the devastating 2010 earthquake. Once back there, they relived all the ironies– paying locals to plant trees, which enabled them to buy goats, which ate the trees. By this time they knew that buying imported furniture as NGOs demanded was wrong when desperate locals were struggling to keep their own furniture businesses afloat. They knew that forcing a flourishing local cooperative to meet an NGO timeline might be dooming it to failure. They agonized for the country they still loved.

The author recounts the history of the island, going back to Columbus, who discovered what was then a lush paradise, eventually ruined by clearing the land for crops grown by slaves. And she gradually peals back the stages of her personal awakening, her conflicted feelings about the country, her wish to help, her understanding that although the job is never finished, you still need to do what you can and know that others will continue the work.

I found that I liked Apricot a lot and admired her ongoing effort to find common ground with her demanding, sometimes cruel, father. I also admired her stalwart mother’s efforts to bring cheer — especially as the mission was falling apart and all the doctors and nurses and staff were feeling demoralized.

You get to see the beauty of the country in this book and the different strengths of the people. And you especially get to see why decades of do-gooder initiatives were bound to fail. Not that the medical mission did no good at all — many lives were saved, many people got jobs and other kinds of help — but the model was unsustainable.

I can think of so many people I know who would love this book — people who work with immigrants from Haiti and elsewhere, tree people trying to protect the environment, people who love beautiful, honest writing.

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The Power of Urban Trees

Photo: Wikimedia
A shady street in suburbia.

John has been working with the Arlington Tree Committee to inventory the town’s trees and promote the benefits of an urban canopy.

Recently, his team has connected with the lab of Lucy Hutyra, associate professor of earth and environment at Boston University, who plans to bring post-doc colleagues to Arlington to help determine the best planting strategies for combatting problems like heat islands.

A 2016 CityLab article about Hutyra’s research with BU biologist Andrew Reinmann notes that trees in urban and suburban environments actually do a better job of removing excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than trees in forests.

As Courtney Humphries reported at CityLab, “Forests are important asset in fighting climate change, absorbing an estimated 30 percent of the carbon dioxide we emit from burning fossil fuels. But those estimates come from big forests, says Reinmann, and we know relatively little about how patchy forests function, and whether they provide the same services that large forests do.

“A study published [in December 2016] in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Reinmann and BU environmental scientist Lucy Hutyra shows that forest fragments in New England behave differently than intact forests in surprising ways: they may pull significantly more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere than predicted. …

“ ‘You can see how the structure of the trees all along the edge is different,’ [Reinmann] says, pointing to a stand of oaks with long horizontal branches reaching over the backyards, soaking up the additional sunlight. Slicing and dicing forests with housing developments, roads, and agricultural fields creates a multitude of forest edges and, as Reinmann and his colleagues are finding, conditions at the edge of a forest are different than deep inside it. These effects add up; currently, 20 percent of the world’s forested land is within 330 feet of an edge.

“Edge conditions can actually be a boon to the trees that remain. An earlier study from Hutyra’s lab found that urbanization makes trees in Massachusetts grow faster. …

“ ‘On, average the forest is growing 90 percent faster near the edge,’ says Reinmann. In some cases, individual trees are growing faster, and in other cases, they’re growing more densely. …

Given the growth boost at edges, Reinmann and Hutyra estimate, forests in southern New England take up about 13 percent more carbon dioxide than they’re given credit for, and store about 10 percent more carbon. …

“But, Reinmann says, ‘the really important thing to stress is that it does not mean forest fragmentation is a good thing. The carbon sink here is still substantially lower than it would be if we didn’t lose any forest.’ In other words, slicing up a forest to store carbon is a very bad idea.”

Click here for more, and here for the street tree map John’s team is building thanks to their Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation grant.

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We all know that chestnut trees were wiped out by disease, right? Well, maybe not.

Susan Sharon at the Maine Public Broadcasting Network has a hopeful story.

“A century ago American chestnut trees dominated the eastern woodlands from Georgia to Maine. Growing straight and tall they were prized for timber. Wildlife depended on the nuts they provided every year.

“People ate the chestnuts, too, scooping them up by the sackful every Fall. Then came an exotic blight accidentally introduced from Asia and the species was virtually wiped out.

“That’s why scientists are excited by a recent find in western Maine, a record-breaking find that is raising their hopes for the future.

“The unusual discovery was made from the air. Dr. Brian Roth, a forest scientist with the University of Maine was surveying areas most likely to have habitat conditions favorable for chestnut trees and – voila! Flying over some woods in Lovell he saw a telltale sign.

” ‘In July, when nothing else is blooming, this tree will have a large amount of white flowers in its crown,’ says Roth. …

“This is not just any tree. This is an American chestnut tree worthy of the record books. …

“As girth goes, this chestnut tree is not so impressive. It’s on the skinny side. And most people wouldn’t pick it out as distinctive in a forest lineup. But when it comes to height, this American chestnut reigns supreme.

” ‘We think it’s around one hundred years old,’ says Roth. ‘It’s over 100 feet tall, which makes it the tallest [chestnut] that we know of in North America.’ …

” ‘We’re quite interested in these native trees, one for getting them into the population, our breeding program, as well as where do these trees grow?’ Roth says.

“The North Carolina-based American Chestnut Foundation is devoted to restoration of the American chestnut to its historic range. … Dr. Jared Westbrook is the American Chestnut Foundation’s geneticist. …

“He says more than 60,000 chestnut trees have been planted so far. To help them out, the group is using a virus that infects the chestnut fungus and makes it weaker. But Westbrook says only 500 trees, the toughest and the best of the bunch, will ultimately be selected for reintroduction to the wild.” Listen to the story here.

The poet Marianne Moore once wrote, “I rejoice that there are owls.” Today I rejoice that there are chestnut trees.

Photo: MPBN/Susan Sharon
Here’s the evidence. People are excited about finding a 100-year-old chestnut tree that survived blight in Maine. Other chestnuts are being nurtured in the South.

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EcoRI News is a local environmental site where I often find good stories. I especially like this one. It’s not only an upbeat environmental story, but it features middle-school and high-school enrichment in a district that has not often been able to afford enrichment.

Frank Carini writes from Central Falls, “Crammed into 1.3 square miles is a diverse community of 19,300 residents, lots of traffic and plenty of pavement. The most densely populated city in the smallest state also lacks green.

“Central Falls has the lowest percentage of tree cover in Rhode Island. … Today, only 3 percent of Central Falls is green space, a problem Mayor James Diossa soon began addressing when he took office three years ago.

“ ‘Past administrations had never given priority or importance to the role of trees,’ he told ecoRI News earlier this year during a tour of revitalized Jenks Park and a nearby community garden. ‘Trees are instrumental for a community.’

“When Diossa took office in January 2013, it had been nearly three years since the city filed for receivership and nearly two years since it had filed for bankruptcy. Those challenges, however, didn’t prevent Diossa and his administration from implementing ‘Operation Tree Hugger.’

“In December 2014, students from Calcutt Middle School and Scituate High School partnered with the city to develop a proposal for the America the Beautiful-Tree Rhode Island 2015-2016 grant program. The students’ proposal was funded. Four months later, on April 10, 2015, the students planted 14 trees around Calcutt Middle School and established the Central Falls Arboretum.

“Since then, tree plantings haven’t stopped. Last year a group of local middle-school students planted 15 trees along Hunt Street. On National Arbor Day in April, six trees were planted in front of City Hall. A line item has been added to the budget to fund the planting and maintenance of the city’s slowly growing green space. …

“The city and its many partners, however, aren’t limiting new green to the tall variety. They are bringing back all kinds of vegetation. The 26th-most densely populated city in the country wants an urban jungle that features more than concrete, asphalt, steel and brick.

“The community seems to have embraced its greening. The mayor noted that neighborhood volunteers water new plantings, weed, and keep a watchful eye on new green space.”

More at EcoRI, here.

Photo: Joanna Detz/ecoRI News
Middle-school students have planted 15 trees along Hunt Street. Six trees were planted in front of City Hall in April. Central Falls High School students have planted eggplants, peppers and tomatoes in what used to be a vacant lot.

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I’ve mentioned before that John is active on the Arlington Tree Committee. He’s been behind a major push to inventory the town’s trees, aided by local government support and the legwork of many residents.

Other members of the committee have been using Facebook to link to interesting research on the value of trees to communities.

Science Daily, for example, reported on a study by Adam Dale et al. of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) suggesting the best ways to keep trees healthy and sustain their economic value.

“Heat from city sidewalks, streets, and parking lots, along with insect pests, can damage trees planted in urban landscapes. Thus, it is critical to plant trees in the right places so they will do well in harsh urban environments, a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researcher says.

“More than half the world’s people and 80 percent of the U.S. population live in urban areas. Trees benefit these residents by filtering the air, reducing temperatures and beautifying landscapes. According to a new study led by Adam Dale, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of entomology, these benefits are reduced when trees are planted in unsuitable urban landscapes. However, guidelines can be developed to lead urban tree- planting decisions in a more sustainable direction.” Check out the researchers’ “Pace to Plant” technique here.

At the Toronto Star,

“Using data from Toronto, a team of researchers has found that having 10 more trees on your block has self-reported health benefits akin to a $10,000 salary raise or moving to a neighbourhood with a $10,000 higher median income or being seven years younger.

“By comparing satellite imagery of Toronto, an inventory of trees on public land and general health surveys, the team, led by University of Chicago psychologist Marc Berman, found that people who live on a tree-lined block are less likely to report conditions such as high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease or diabetes.

‘Their findings appeared [in 2015] in the open-access journal Scientific Reports.” More at the Star here.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that research social scientist Kathleen L. Wolf has written extensively on the value of trees: for example, in this Communities & Banking article on how “the urban forest” benefits local businesses.

Photo: Tyler Jones, UF/IFAS
Numerous studies show trees improve health and quality of life in communities and make shopping at local businesses more appealing.

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