This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
The Solution Can Usually Be Found In Nature
Sam Pearson 7/21/2021 2:01 PM
Alabama Foliage, Image: Pixabay
My grandson who is now 12 years old, asked me 6 years ago why I planted trees, I responded that there are many reasons that I plant trees. I went on to explain that the long-leaf pine trees I planted, would grow like a corn crop and in about 50 years they will be ready to harvest. My grandson was deep in thought and the asked me, “Papa how old are you?” To which I responded, “I am 59 years old.” Next, he stated, “Papa you are going to need help cutting the trees!”
This past hunting season, my grandson and I walked among the long leaf pines, and he commented how they had grown. Most of the trees were now more than 15’ tall. He recalled that it would be 50 years from planting to harvest. He asked me again why I choose long leaf pine trees. I explained that long leaf pine trees grow slowly, and they create a perfect environment for wildlife. Their seeds are good for squirrels and turkey while the grass and vines that grow between the trees provide shelter and food for deer, rabbits and other wildlife. Also, the trees do not mind a wildfire as they simply don’t have combustible material in a great enough quantity on the bark to damage the tree. Also, I explained that about 80% of long leaf pines will be of a quality to make telephone poles, and an 80’ telephone pole log sells for about $500. He quickly did the math; 500 trees per acre at $500/ tree = $250,000 per acre.
Suddenly, my 12-year-old grandson is very interested in my trees. I also explained that growing trees is not only profitable and provides food and homes for wildlife but has a symbiotic relationship with us in another way.
An acre of trees consumes enough CO2 to offset what a typical American generates during their daily activities. In Alabama we have 35,000 square-miles  of trees. There are 640 acres in a square-mile. Therefore, we sequester 22,400,000 people’s worth of CO2. Alabama’s population is about 5,000,000 people. So, we sequester 17,000,000 people’s worth more CO2 than we create.
Heavily populated areas in the northeast and along the coast are the only places where people create more CO2 than is sequestered in the United States. California is an anomaly due to fires that release CO2 at a greater rate than the citizens of the state.
My grandson asks why more people did not plant trees. I explained that President Trump signed an executive order and is a proponent of the 1 Trillion Tree initiative. In America we normally plant about 2.3 billion seedlings, nearly 55 percent were planted by the forest products industry. Tree farmers and other non-industrial private landowners planted another 28 percent of the total. The rest were planted by federal, state and local agencies. Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Oregon and Washington are the leading tree-planting states, in that order.
In fact, we have a lot more trees today than in the past 100 years. Since the 1920s, areas consumed by wildfires have fallen by 90%. Federal, State and local governments now spend $6.4 billion annually on forest management which uses controlled burns to reduce combustible underbrush. This includes $3.2 billion by the US Forest Service, which alone manages 177 million acres of national forests and rangelands and employs 32,000 people. Recreational use on national forests and other public and private forest lands has skyrocketed along with new wildlife species since the 1900s.
America accounts for about 8% of the world’s forestry – exceeded only by Canada, Russia, and Brazil – amounting to 33% of its lands covered in 300 million hectares of forest. Most of these trees are centralized on the East Coast even though it was heavily logged in the 1600s.
This is all good news but there is also a fact that we sometimes overlook. As there are more trees in the world, there is also more moisture going from the groundwater into the atmosphere. This increase in moisture causes the earth to hold warmth by not allowing the heat to radiate back into space, especially at night. But this is also a good thing, as the warm moist air also allows for more CO2 to remain in the air to feed more plants. It is this combination of warmer and moister atmosphere in combination with higher CO2, that allows us to produce enough food in the United States to not only feed our 320 million citizens but also 500 million of the world’s most needy citizens.
Sam Pearson is a retired Army Colonel with a variety of experience in both government and private sectors. As arguably one of the World's foremost military logisticians, he has been responsible for the on time delivery of supplies and services worth billions of dollars. After service in Southwest Asia, he was hand picked to support logistics operations in support of earthquake relief operations in Haiti. Pearson now serves as a consultant and volunteer mentor for students seeking their doctorates in advance statistical analysis.
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