Trees – they may be Mother Nature's most underrated asset. They take in carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. They absorb odors and several common air pollutants. Particulate pollution is trapped on their leaves. Trees provide habitat for all kinds of wildlife. Their roots stabilize stream banks and prevent soil from washing off the sides of mountains. It is no coincidence that our local water authorities work hard to protect the trees on their watersheds. Tree cover moderates temperature extremes. Their shade cools the streets and soil beneath them in summer. They slow heat loss from buildings in the winter. That means they also slow evaporation from the earth's surface, slowing the effects of drought and protecting nearby plants from the stress of dry spells.
What other material on the planet is renewable, a durable building material and can be burned for energy? A number of species produce edible fruit or nuts. As if we had not already described a near perfect creation, even the waste material from trees (their leaves and needles) is easily converted into valuable nutrients for the soil. In nature, the leaves fall to the ground and their nutrients are recycled beneath the tree itself. We can also make rich compost when we transform leaves and grass into a soil amendment in our home composters or at our facilities at the Buckhorn or near Duncansville. Yet it goes beyond just the traditional environmental benefits. Neighborhoods with more trees have lower crime rates and higher valued real estate. People prefer to live and work in places with more trees.
Trees soften harsh urban features or rural blight. It masks some of the less attractive things we build and allow to pile up in our man-made landscapes. Many of these benefits are subtle and unappreciated. But sometimes, trees actually make the news. Like other perceived injustices, the public speaks out when something happens to their trees.
Trees have made the local news several times over the last few weeks. Altoona City officials concluded that the damage to several dozen trees on Broad Avenue was even worse than first feared. Residents and those that use Broad Avenue have been upset because the stately trees on the shady thoroughfare were butchered in an ill-advised tree trimming endeavor. Though some of the trees were old and in declining health, it would seem that replacing a small number of trees every few years would have been a preferable strategy.
Altoona and Hollidaysburg are both Tree City USA communities recognized by the National Arbor Day Society and have worked hard in recent years to preserve old trees and plant new ones. Like Altoona and many other communities, Hollidaysburg also has street trees in decline and recently announced a plan to plant two dozen each year over the next five years. Though Altoona has also had some struggles with some older trees on Eighth Street, their street tree planting efforts have provided many of the benefits we described earlier. Many surrounding communities can also boast of pleasant tree-covered streets and mountainsides. Here is a hope that we value all the benefits they bring and continue to work to preserve them.
The Penn State Cooperative Extension and the Arbor Day Society both have great resources on tree pruning and care.