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Posts Tagged ‘trees’


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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Straight from Maria Popova’s wonderful Brain Pickings blog, a review of an illustrated book on strange trees.

“In Strange Trees and the Stories Behind Them (public library), French author Bernadette Pourquié and illustrator Cécile Gambini choreograph an illustrated tour of the world’s greatest arboreal wonders, from species that have witnessed the dinosaurs roam this Earth to exotic marvels like Brazil’s ‘Walking Tree’ (Red Mangrove) and the Philippines’ ‘Rainbow Tree’ (Mindanao gum tree) to underappreciated procurers of human delights, such as the sapodilla tree that gives us chewing gum and the cocoa tree without which there would be no chocolate.

“Alongside each imaginative illustration, partway between botany and fairy tale, is a one-page autobiography of the respective tree, describing its natural and cultural habitat in a short first-person story fusing curious science facts, history, and local customs.” Read more.

I hope that John is reading this post. He’s officially on his town’s tree committee — promoting the value of trees in urban and commercial areas as well as residential — and he is leading a town tree inventory that was launched yesterday.

 Illustration: Cécile Gambini 

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Massachusetts Avenue in East Arlington is shrinking. After contentious debate, the town decided to widen the sidewalks, add barrier islands in the street, and new plantings and benches.

The job is not done, but in spite of construction and less room for vehicles, the traffic doesn’t seem to have increased — one of those counterintuitive results that designers tout. The goal is to make the street more pedestrian and bike friendly and allow more community activities on sidewalks. Through the tree committee, John has been involved with the beautification side of things.

One of the issues that gets raised when a major disruption like this is afoot is the effect on small businesses. Neighbors are making a point of shopping local, hoping that Arlington merchants won’t suffer.

And to make sure residents don’t forget how important that is, there is an amusing signage campaign — signs saying that “Businesses are [fill in the blank] during Construction.”

For example, “Businesses are Opalescent during Construction.” Other Mad-Libs-type adjectives used are Quirky, Colorific, Radiant, Prismatic, Harmonic, Niblicious, and Excellent.

Below, I include a couple of the signs. And I tried to show how the project is coming along — the wide sidewalk, the plantings, the bench. I look forward to seeing how the residents begin to make use of their new public spaces.

091915-shop-local-despite-construction

101715-support-small-biusiness

101715-bump-out-sidewalk

101715-widening-the-walk

101715-wider-walk-allows-benches

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