The value of forests and trees



Editor’s note: This series takes a deeper look at Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical On the Care for Our Common Home, “Laudato Si.’”

Did you know that, in 1800, Indiana had over 83% of its land area in forests? And by 1900, forests made up less than 7% (Sam Carman, IDNR, Div. of Forestry)? Also, did you know some city neighborhoods have few, if any trees? We urge you to take to heart Pope Francis’ wisdom and his love for trees – and the blessings they give us.

One blessing is atmospheric oxygen to breathe by photosynthetic plants (e.g., trees) assimilating carbon dioxide and water with sunlight. Other blessings are trees maintaining a constant air temperature; and in cities, preventing the development of “heat islands.” Trees also provide timber, paper and many other products.

Trees are also appreciated for their flowers, fruits, leaves, trunks and branches. They embellish our lives with colors, smells and falling leaves. But trees are so much more! They’re our reliable friends that protect humankind, animals and plants from wind, sleet, rain and snow. Trees also provide habitat and shade, regulate climate, store nutrients (especially carbon), filter water, protect and build soil, and reduce erosion (water conservation).

Trees make up different types of forests in the world, and 31 percent of the world’s land surface, just over 4 billion hectares, is forested (Earth Policy Institute, 2012). Their numbers are decreasing though from timbering, droughts, infestations and wildfires.

The removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is critically important because people emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through their activities. For centuries, trees have offset these carbon emissions. Saving Nature, Inc. (Carbon Footprint Calculator) says “it takes about 1,025 trees to offset the average American’s emissions today, with each tree absorbing about 31 lbs. of carbon dioxide each year.” So, we need to preserve trees we have now and plant more.

Legislation like The Trillion Tree Act promotes the planting of more trees, and the management and regeneration of these new trees (Ann Bartuska, 4/6/20, Resources Magazine). ForestIN plans to plant a million trees in Indiana by 2025. Similarly, Carbon Neutral Indiana receives funds it puts directly toward planting trees and managing forests. With such help, suitable tree species will be planted and preserved forever. Please contact an arborist for help in planting trees!

Let’s look at trees – like Bob Ross – the late American painter. He said, "There's nothing wrong with having a tree as a friend.” In addition, children love naming trees at home because trees have always been our friends. An excellent book on trees is “The Hidden Life of Trees – What They Feel, How They Communicate,” by Peter Wohlleben.

In the future, let’s plan on planting and preserving more trees. God made our Earth green for a reason; so let’s continue to be friends to trees.

Let’s keep things simple, empower and inspire ourselves to keep our Mother Earth as a green world of trees, and promote other ecosystems like wetlands and prairies. Do what you can with what you have, and reduce your carbon footprint by planting trees!

What can you do?

Please consider the following:

Deacon Tom Cervone, Ph.D. is an ecologist (St. Bonaventure University – Franciscan College); Sister Maureen Houlihan, D.C., is a support sister on the Seton Harvest Farm started by the Daughters of Charity in response to the Communities - Care of Mother Earth. This CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Farm grows all natural produce for shareholders and the poor. Nicole Cervone-Gish, Ed. MS. is an award winning ELL teacher.