Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Paving Paradise

Paving Paradise at the Expense of Trees
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, September 26, 2023, p. A6

“They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot”
If you’re close to my age you’ll remember those lines from Joni Mitchell’s 1970 song, “Big Yellow Taxi.”

They came to me recently during my morning walk past a recently significantly expanded University of Iowa parking lot in what used to be a neighborhood of families, trees and wilderness enjoyed by all.

When it comes to the changes, as with so many other decisions, “it’s all about the money.” The rental income from a house full of students totals more than what a family can afford. And apparently somebody thought the income from 130 additional parking spaces would be well worth the loss of 30 trees (roughly four parking spaces per tree). [Photo source: Nicholas Johnson]
"They took all the trees
Put 'em in a tree museum”
And so it came to pass that, without notice to neighbors (of which I’m aware), 30 trees were sawed into pieces, dug out, carried away and replaced with cars.

Those of us living in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, our public officials and local organizations, have long been recognized for our understanding of trees’ importance. Cedar Rapids’ well-deserved recent $6 million federal grant is evidence of national recognition of our accomplishments.

The more we continue to learn about trees, like other seeming miracles of Nature (such as Brittney Miller’s recent page one turtles story), the humbler we should become.

Trees ancestry goes back 400 million years when ferns developed a vascular system enabling water and minerals to go up from the roots to the leaves, and food to go down from the leaves to the roots. From 200 to 56 million years ago there appeared ginkgo and pine, and ultimately maple and oak.

Trees can’t talk, but apparently they can communicate with, and care for, each other, sometimes over long distances, sending warnings of threats and sharing food (with mother trees favoring their offspring). If only Congress could do as well.

During World War II there was a saying, “Don’t just stand there, do pushups or something.” Well, trees don’t “just stand there.” They are a major ally in fighting climate change, each absorbing about 350 pounds of CO2 annually.

I have to monitor the Air Quality Index. Trees improve it by trapping particulate pollution on leaves and bark.

They produce oxygen. They help cool in summer and warm in winter by as much as 30 to 40 degrees, reducing air conditioning and heating bills. They improve our physical and mental health. They can reduce flooding, capturing 5,000 gallons a year.

And for those who still think “it’s all about the money,” trees can help attract businesses and tourists, and increase your property’s value by up to 15 percent.

For now, keep your eye on the expanding “tiny forest” movement.

Clearly, more parking spaces and fewer trees are not the answer.
“Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone”
Nicholas Johnson enjoys living under a large canopy of trees. Contact: mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org

Joni Mitchell. Joni Mitchell, “Big Yellow Taxi” lyrics,” Jan. 7, 1970, https://jonimitchell.com/music/song.cfm?id=13 (“They paved paradise/And put up a parking lot/. . . They took all the trees/Put 'em in a tree museum/. . . Don't it always seem to go/That you don't know what you've got/Till it's gone”)

More rental from students than families. Karen Black, “The Role Student Housing Plays in Communities; Off-campus housing for college students has grown extensively over the last decade, and communities across the country are hoping to gain control over its spread and potential negative impact on neighborhoods and available affordable housing,” Shelterforce, Sept. 6, 2019, https://shelterforce.org/2019/09/06/the-role-student-housing-plays-in-communities/ (“For landlords, student rentals are an incredibly lucrative real estate opportunity as students pay by the room, allowing landlords to charge more per square foot as there are several roommates paying a monthly rent. As a website for real estate investors recently noted, “a home that might rent for $1,000 a month to a single family could be rented by the room for nearly twice that.” In addition students sign one-year leases so rents can be raised each year if the market allows. For neighbors, student housing can be disruptive as students keep different hours and enjoy different activities than their neighbors, such as late-night parties. And for real estate markets near college campuses, student housing can be transformative as investor capital competes with homeowners, making it so sale prices and rents increase. Local governments in college towns across the country are adopting proactive strategies to gain a measure of control over the spread of student housing and limit any negative impact on real estate markets and affordable housing stock supply near college and university campuses.”)

30 Trees, 130 parking spaces. These numbers are from my own counts and confirming re-counts.

Cedar Rapids/Iowa City awards for trees. “City of Cedar Rapids: Tree City USA Recipient,” Cedar-Rapids.org, April 19, 2023, https://www.cedar-rapids.org/news_detail_T6_R1936.php (“The City of Cedar Rapids was recently honored with the 2022 Tree City USA Award at the 32nd Annual Community Forestry Awards Luncheon in Ankeny. The award was presented by the Arbor Day Foundation and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources April 12 at the FFA Enrichment Center in Ankeny. Cedar Rapids has been a Tree City USA award winner for the past 45 years, longer than any other city in the state.

"Native Tree Restoration Initiative," Monarch Research, Marion, Iowa, "Planting Forward 2021-23 Participation Overview 092023.pdf (180 woodlands, 96 schools, 49 organizations, 5 municipalities, 4 colleges)

“Iowa City Named Tree City USA Once Again,” ICGov.org, April 23, 2023, https://www.icgov.org/Home/Components/News/News/301/390, (“Iowa City has once again been named a Tree City USA by the Arbor Day Foundation in honor of its commitment to effective urban forest management.

The Arbor Day Foundation is a million-member nonprofit conservation and education organization with the mission to inspire people to plant, nurture, and celebrate trees.

Iowa City achieved its 43rd Tree City USA recognition by meeting the program's four requirements: a tree board or department, a tree care ordinance, an annual community forestry budget of at least $2 per capita, and an Arbor Day observance and proclamation.

The City also received a Tree City USA Growth Award for demonstrating environmental improvement and an outstanding level of tree care.

Tyler Baird, Iowa City Forestry Superintendent, said: “Iowa City Forestry staff are committed to providing a healthy and sustainable urban forest for the benefit and enjoyment of all residents and visitors. The Tree City USA designation highlights this commitment to planting and caring for trees in our community.”)

Cedar Rapids federal tree grant. Marissa Payne, “In USDA’s $1.1 billion investment in tree planting, Cedar Rapids’ ReLeaf reforestation effort awarded $6 million; Iowa communities, Department of Natural Resources receive $15.7 million through Forest Service grants,” The Gazette, Sept. 15, 2023, https://www.thegazette.com/federal-government/in-usdas-1-1-billion-investment-in-tree-planting-cedar-rapids-releaf-reforestation-effort-awarde/ (“In a move to expand equitable access to trees and green spaces nationwide, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Thursday announced an award of $6 million toward Cedar Rapids’ effort to reforest the city after the 2020 derecho toppled most of the city’s tree canopy.”)

Brittney Miller’s turtles. Brittney J. Miller, “”Turtles Have Personalities – Which Could Help Them Survive; Coe Study Shows Ornate Box Turtles Behave Differently,” The Gazette, Sept. 14, 2023, p. 1, https://www.thegazette.com/environment-nature/a-threatened-turtle-species-has-personality-knowing-that-could-help-them-survive/

Trees’ history. “A Brief History of Trees,” Trees Charlotte, April 20, 2021, https://treescharlotte.org/tree-education/a-brief-history-of-trees/ (“400 million years ago: Fossil records of the first tree-like plants appear, such as lycophytes, ferns, and horsetails. These types of plants did not have seeds yet, but were the first to have vascular systems, . . .. 200 million years ago: Evidence of the first ginkgo trees. 150 million years ago: Evidence of the first pine trees. . . . 67 million years: Evidence of the first maple trees. 56 million years ago: Evidence of the first oak trees.”

“Phloem and xylem: Difference in a plant’s vascular system, explained,” Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/video/152186/components-plant-vascular-system

Talking Trees. Richard Grant, “Do Trees Talk to Each Other? A controversial German forester says yes, and his ideas are shaking up the scientific world,” Smithsonian Magazine, March 2018, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-whispering-trees-180968084/ (“I’m walking in the Eifel Mountains in western Germany, through cathedral-like groves of oak and beech, and there’s a strange unmoored feeling of entering a fairy tale. The trees have become vibrantly alive and charged with wonder. They’re communicating with one another, for starters. They’re involved in tremendous struggles and death-defying dramas. To reach enormousness, they depend on a complicated web of relationships, alliances and kinship networks.

Wise old mother trees feed their saplings with liquid sugar and warn the neighbors when danger approaches. Reckless youngsters take foolhardy risks with leaf-shedding, light-chasing and excessive drinking, and usually pay with their lives. Crown princes wait for the old monarchs to fall, so they can take their place in the full glory of sunlight. It’s all happening in the ultra-slow motion that is tree time, so that what we see is a freeze-frame of the action.

My guide here is a kind of tree whisperer. Peter Wohlleben, a German forester and author, has a rare understanding of the inner life of trees, and is able to describe it in accessible, evocative language. . . . Now, at the age of 53, he has become an unlikely publishing sensation. His book The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate, written at his wife’s insistence, sold more than 800,000 copies in Germany, and has now hit the best-seller lists in 11 other countries, including the United States and Canada. . . .

A revolution has been taking place in the scientific understanding of trees, and Wohlleben is the first writer to convey its amazements to a general audience. The latest scientific studies . . . confirm . . .: Trees are far more alert, social, sophisticated—and even intelligent—than we thought.

[A] substantial body of scientific evidence . . . shows . . . that trees of the same species are communal, and will often form alliances with trees of other species. Forest trees have evolved to live in cooperative, interdependent relationships, maintained by communication and a collective intelligence similar to an insect colony.

Wohlleben [says], “All the trees here . . . are connected to each other through underground fungal networks. Trees share water and nutrients through the networks, and also use them to communicate. They send distress signals about drought and disease, for example, or insect attacks, and other trees alter their behavior when they receive these messages.” . . . To communicate through the network, trees send chemical, hormonal and slow-pulsing electrical signals, which scientists are just beginning to decipher. . . .

When a giraffe starts chewing acacia leaves, the tree notices the injury and emits a distress signal in the form of ethylene gas. Upon detecting this gas, neighboring acacias start pumping tannins into their leaves. In large enough quantities these compounds can sicken or even kill large herbivores.”)

Do pushups or something. Google can find no source for the saying, so I guess the default source is going to have to be “just a memory from childhood.”

Benefits of trees. “We Need Trees and here’s why . . .,” Forestry & Natural Resources, Purdue University, (no date), https://www.purdue.edu/fnr/extension/we-need-trees-and-heres-why/ (“Here are some easy ways in which urban trees and woodlots contribute to making cities more environmentally sustainable and livable:

• Trees can contribute to the increase of local food and nutrition security, providing food such as fruits and nuts for wildlife and human consumption.
• Trees play an important role in increasing urban biodiversity, providing plants and animals with a proper habitat, food and protection.
• A mature tree can absorb up to 350 lbs. of CO2 per year. As a result, trees play an important role in climate change mitigation. In cities with high levels of pollution, trees can improve air quality making cities healthier places to live in.
• Strategic placement of trees in cities can help to cool the air between 30-40o F, thus reducing the urban “heat island” effect, helping reduce extreme heat conditions in summer weather.
• Large trees are great biological filters for urban pollutants and particulate pollution. They absorb pollutant gases (such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, ozone and Sulphur oxides) and filter fine particulates such as dust, dirt, or smoke out of the air by trapping them on leaves and bark.
• Research shows that living in close proximity of urban green spaces and having access to them, can improve physical and mental health, for example by decreasing high blood pressure and stress. Also, research indicates greatly improved neo-natal health as well. This, in turn, contributes to the well-being of urban communities.
• Mature trees regulate water flow and play a key role in preventing floods and reducing the risk of sewer overflow. Stormwater management is a crucial city infrastructure issue and trees help. A mature tree, for instance, can intercept more than 5,000 gallons of water per year and without trees, every rain would contribute floods.
• Trees also help to reduce carbon emissions by helping to conserve energy. For example, the correct placement of trees around buildings can reduce the need for air conditioning by 30 percent and reduce winter heating bills by 20-50 percent.
• Planning urban landscapes with trees can increase property value, by up to 15 percent, and attract tourism and business.

“Arbor Day Foundation Announces Planting Locations for 20 Million Trees Jan. 10, 2020; After YouTube's largest-ever crowdfunding campaign raised $20 million in just 56 days, the Arbor Day Foundation is kicking off tree planting around the globe,” T&D World, Jan. 10, 2020, https://www.tdworld.com/vegetation-management/article/21120273/arbor-day-foundation-announces-planting-locations-for-20-million-trees (“T&D=Transmission and Distribution -- “Dan Lambe, president of the Arbor Day Foundation. "Now, the Arbor Day Foundation will do what we do best: ensure that 21.5 million trees are planted in the right places and at the right time." With more than 500,000 unique #TeamTrees donors from at least 200 countries, the first wave of planting was designed to ensure that every continent except Antarctica was supported.” Graphuc: #TeamTrees Thank you for helping to plant 20 million trees! Based on a U.S. Forest Service analysis, these trees will: • Remove 115,000 tons of chemical air pollution, enough gaseous pollution to fill 14,000 Goodyear blimps. • Absorb and store 1.6 million tons of carbon, the equivalent of taking 1.24 million cars off the road for a year. • Result in 1.5 billion cubic meters (400 billion gallons) of avoided water runoff, the equivalent of filling the water bottle of every person on Earth every day for a year.

[One cubic meter is 35.3147 cubic feet; 7.48052 gallons in a cubic foot = 396,258,479,000 gallons c. 400 billion gallons] Arbor Day Foundation, https://www.arborday.org

“Biden-Harris Administration announces historic funding to expand access to trees and green spaces in disadvantaged urban communities,” USDA Press Release, Newark, NJ, April 12, 2023, https://www.fs.usda.gov/news/releases/biden-harris-administration-announces-historic-funding-expand-access-trees-and-green (“Research shows that trees and green spaces improve physical and mental health outcomes and create new economic opportunities,” said USDA Undersecretary for Natural Resources and the Environment Dr. Homer Wilkes. “They also enhance community green spaces and support lasting community relationships and engagements. These funds will enable us to bring these benefits to disadvantaged communities across the nation, and to support new partnerships with a diverse array of organizations.”” “John Podesta, Senior Advisor to the President for Clean Energy Innovation and Implementation. “It’s about cleaning up the air we breathe, keeping city streets cool during sweltering summers, and creating safer, healthier neighborhoods for our kids.” “Since my days as Mayor of Newark, I have seen the transformative impact that planting trees can have for urban communities,” said Sen. Booker. “Studies have shown that trees save families money in heating and cooling costs, reduce air and water pollution, decrease the risk of respiratory illnesses like asthma, reduce flooding, and protect people from extreme heat.” “Investing in our urban forests is investing in the health and wellness of our communities,” said Forest Service Chief Randy Moore. “Trees provide numerous benefits, like improving air quality, reducing stormwater runoff, providing shade, creating safe outdoor spaces for recreation, and stimulating other kinds of investments.”)

“Throwing Shade: Exploring the Benefits of Trees,” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, May 6, 2020, https://www.epa.gov/sciencematters/throwing-shade-exploring-benefits-trees (“Corvallis, Oregon. Impacts included reductions in four air pollutants, (O3, NO2, SO2, PM10), carbon sequestration, decreased stormwater runoff, building energy savings due to shading, and (thanks to city trees), increased real estate values.”)

Trees Forever, https://treesforever.org/ and https://treesforever.org/resources/ and https://treesforever.org/document/why-trees-matter/ (“Benefits such as energy conservation, improved air and water quality, increased property values and economic vitality, improved health and well-being, habitat improvement and more!”) (“Trees Are Our Hardest Working Residents” stormwater reduction, property value increase, energy savings, air quality improvement, CO2 reduction)

Dustin Renwick, “How one city plans to recover from losing most of its trees; Tens of thousands of trees in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, were destroyed by a devastating summer windstorm. That has meant heartache for city residents, but also opportunity to replant stronger,” National Geographic, Dec. 10, 2020, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/how-one-city-plans-to-recover-from-losing-all-of-its-trees (80,000 trees; “Estimates of how much trees save in U.S. electricity costs range from $1 billion to $4.7 billion. The more conservative number comes from a study by Rob McDonald, lead scientist for nature-based solutions at The Nature Conservancy.” “Urban forests don’t just block sun, they also intercept rain -- it’s why the sidewalk under a sprawling hickory remains dry during a light shower. Tree roots prevent soil from moving as rainwater rushes across it, and leaves and branches keep rainfall from slamming into unprotected hillsides or impervious surfaces like parking lots and streets. When rain batters those areas, it erodes soil and often collects a mix of toxins, carrying them into streams and rivers. With so many trees gone, millions more gallons of polluted stormwater will enter the Cedar Rapids watershed.”)

Trees increase property values. “We Need Trees and here’s why . . .,” Forestry & Natural Resources, Purdue University, (no date), https://www.purdue.edu/fnr/extension/we-need-trees-and-heres-why/ (“Planning urban landscapes with trees can increase property value, by up to 15 percent, and attract tourism and business.”)

Tiny Forests. Cara Buckley, “Tiny Forests With Big Benefits; Native plants crowded onto postage-stamp-size plots have been delivering environmental benefits around the world — and, increasingly, in the U.S.,” New York Times, Aug. 26, 2023, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/08/24/climate/tiny-forests-climate-miyawaki.html (“[“Tiny forests” are] a sweeping movement that is transforming dusty highway shoulders, parking lots, schoolyards and junkyards worldwide. Tiny forests have been planted across Europe, in Africa, throughout Asia and in South America, Russia and the Middle East. India has hundreds, and Japan, where it all began, has thousands.

Now tiny forests are slowly but steadily appearing in the United States. In recent years, they’ve been planted alongside a corrections facility on the Yakama reservation in Washington, in Los Angeles’s Griffith Park and in Cambridge, where the forest is one of the first of its kind in the Northeast.”)

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