Written by Casey Willson, Waterkeepers Chesapeake Intern
Trees are a vital part of our urban and suburban ecosystems. Not only do they provide shade for us on sunny summer days but they also do a tremendous job of storing water in their roots, trunks, and leaves; filtering the air that we breath; and filtering excess nutrients out of storm water runoff. The presence or not of an abundant tree canopy is also an indicator of the social-economic status of a neighborhood. American Forests released a nationwide analysis in June 2021 showing that low-income neighborhoods and communities of color have significantly less tree canopy. Those areas also are more likely to suffer from the urban heat island effect caused by a lack of shade and an abundance of heat-absorbing asphalt. Heat islands can be as much as 10 degrees hotter than surrounding neighborhoods.
You can start protecting trees in your own yard by taking a Clear Choices Clean Water pledge! You can also get involved in efforts to encourage tree planting programs that address the inequities that exist in your own community. Trees protect public health and our environment in so many ways.
Trees are our biggest defenders against the pollution that is picked up in storm water ending up in our waterways. They do a fantastic job of taking water and releasing it back into the atmosphere as water vapor through transpiration, when water is absorbed through the roots of a tree and then released as water vapor during photosynthesis, and evapotranspiration, when water that falls onto a tree’s limbs evaporates back into the atmosphere. This means that only the water is going back into the water cycle, leaving behind the excess nutrients that may have been present. In addition, tree roots make the ground more absorptive and decrease erosion, meaning more water can be soaked into the ground rather than running off into our waterways. A mature oak tree can consume over 40,000 gallons of water in a year – that’s 40,000 gallons of water a year that is being filtered and released by a single oak tree!
You can help to protect our waterways with trees by planting new ones in your yard and protecting the ones that you already have planted. Some steps that you can take to support the health of your existing trees are to avoid tree topping, the process of severely cutting back large branches on mature trees, and practice healthy pruning methods; mulching in order to protect and insulate the roots of your trees; and when possible, creating and maintaining a woodlot to really maximize the benefit these small “forests” provide. If you are planning to plant new trees in your yard, make sure to plan for the future and try to avoid any power lines or other structures that may hinder the tree’s growth. You should also call 811 to have your utilities marked before you start digging. Take a pledge & happy planting!