Guest Columnist

Healthy future depends on trees, and us

A mature bald eagle lands in a tree after flying around the water front at Pleasant Creek Recreation Area north of Palo, Iowa.  (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette Archives)
A mature bald eagle lands in a tree after flying around the water front at Pleasant Creek Recreation Area north of Palo, Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette Archives)

Trees continue to be the forgotten piece of the energy efficiency legislation addressed in The Gazette on Oct. 1 (“Energy savings plans in Iowa headed for a big drop”). Ironically, even many of the environmental groups working on energy policy never mention trees. Kudos to Alliant Energy and Black Hills Energy, both of which have kept trees in their next five-year plans, though with substantially less funding.

Trees are unique in that, unlike appliances, they grow exponentially in benefits. Trees Forever calculates 40 years of benefits for trees (minus an allowance for mortality) when calculating energy saving benefits. Let’s bundle all the benefits of trees — including stormwater offsets, property value increases, carbon sequestration and wildlife/pollinator benefits. They are the hardworking rock stars of the natural world and a beautiful addition to any community or backyard.

While we don’t like to talk about California approaches a whole lot in Iowa, it isn’t called the bellwether state for nothing. With state funding and local programs, utilities and nonprofits are starting to fund tree plantings for all their benefits. In Sacramento, the municipal utility works with Sacramento Tree Foundation to plant up to 14 trees per home for all the reasons I mentioned above.

Going forward, it will take more partners and individuals willing to plant and care for our trees. Each community needs between 25 percent to 30 percent tree canopy to have the cooling and wind protection that makes a desirable, viable community. The onslaught of emerald ash borer is taking out so many of our beautiful, mature ash trees — which, by the way, are on the top 10 list of the most important trees for pollinators and birds. This is creating a huge deficit of overall tree canopy.

Communities are taking all sorts of approaches to plant more trees. Marion has an “urban forestry” utility that funds tree planting with stormwater fees. Des Moines has a fund generated by fees for trees removed during development — a mitigation bank. Cedar Rapids continues to budget for a quality tree planting and care program. Trees Forever is launching a youth employment program to help cities plant and care for trees — a model that has worked well in Indianapolis, Atlanta, San Francisco and other cities.

Let’s not take our trees for granted. We need to plant more hearty native trees to ensure diversity of plants and insects. We need to give our mature trees more protections and care. We need more oaks, lindens, ironwoods, Kentucky coffee trees, locusts, and there’s a lot more to choose from. A healthy future depends on us!

• Shannon Ramsay is founding president and CEO of Trees Forever.

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