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Friday, February 28, 2014

Climate Change From a Fish-eye View

For those of us who acknowledge that climate change is real and is already happening, we have the advantage of planning ahead to identify actions that we can take on a local scale to alleviate some of the effects we expect to see throughout the rest of our lifetimes. The U.S. Congress and global diplomats certainly have the ability to take much bigger strides to try to mitigate a climatic tailspin by taking action to lessen the amount of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere. But let’s consider something each of us can do to mitigate some of the CO2 already in the atmosphere. Plant trees.

A shade tree is capable of absorbing and storing as much as 48 pounds of CO2 in one year. In 40 years, a tree can sequester one ton of CO2 (http://www.ncsu.edu/project/treesofstrength/treefact.htm). That’s pretty substantial, especially considering that most large shade trees (non-ornamentals) can live decades beyond 40 years.

I have a feeling that not very many climate deniers are going to be reading this post. But just in case, for their benefit, I’ll point out another important benefit of planting more trees in our communities. Stormwater control. Trees can manage some of the stormwater heading for waterways in two ways. First, they intercept rainfall before it hits the ground. The result is a delay in the rain hitting the ground as it hangs out on the vast surface area of the leaves and bark. Think about how often you’ve walked under a tree after a rain shower and had raindrops fall from the leaves onto your head and shoulders. And more significantly, trees consume huge amounts of stormwater after it hits the ground. A mature oak can consume up to 40,000 gallons per year. Decreased stormwater runoff means less severe flooding. It’s estimated that for every five percent increase in tree cover in a community, the stormwater runoff is decreased by approximately two percent (https://www.americanforests.org). A two percent decrease might not sound like much, but for municipalities trying to meet the requirements of their EPA stormwater discharge permit (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System, or MS4, permit), every gallon that doesn’t go into the local creek is a welcome reduction. Trees also absorb some of the pollutants picked up by stormwater, keeping them from washing into waterways as well. See, trees have something to offer everyone regardless of their climate beliefs.

So, speaking of trees, my local Trout Unlimited chapter (the Little Lehigh Chapter) last week was awarded a 2014 Coldwater Conservation Implementation Grant from the Coldwater Heritage Partnership. The Coldwater Heritage Partnership’s mission is to provide leadership, coordination, technical assistance, and funding support for the evaluation, conservation and protection of Pennsylvania's coldwater streams. The partners are Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds, and Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited. The chapter will use this $5,172 grant to purchase and plant 76 appropriate shade trees throughout five selected areas along the Little Lehigh Creek in Lower Macungie Township that have significant gaps in the streamside riparian buffer tree canopy. As they mature, these shade trees will help to maintain the naturally cool water temperature in the spring-fed Little Lehigh to help prevent heat stress on the native trout during the summer months.
Little Lehigh Creek at Willow Lane in East Texas, PA. 

But this grant award is a win for more than the Little Lehigh’s native trout. As the trees grow, they will be sucking up stormwater runoff heading for the creek along with some of the road salt, fertilizer, oil and grease typical in suburban stormwater runoff. And, by 2054, these 76 trees will have absorbed approximately 76 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere.