Thursday, May 6, 2021
May 6, 2021

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In Our View: Tree-planting a local measure with global reach

The Columbian

Planting trees in Vancouver is a prime example of thinking globally but acting locally. Residents added 1,490 trees to the city’s canopy in 2020, participating in a series of planting events throughout the year.

And the effort is only beginning. “As we start this new year, we are renewing our commitment to planting trees across Vancouver,” Charles Ray, the city’s urban forester, said in a media release. “Projects planned for 2021 include planting at parks, city facilities, schools, businesses and in neighborhoods. With the help of community volunteers and private property owners, we hope to surpass 2020 results.”

The plantings are part of a global urban forestry program launched in 2019 by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, with mayors making a formal pledge to plant a certain number of large-caliper trees — with a stem diameter of at least 2 inches. The latest count shows that more than 8.5 million urban trees have been planted worldwide.

In addition to being nice to look at and providing shade, the trees have numerous environmental benefits. Adding to the tree canopy helps offset carbon emissions — a leading cause of global warming — and extensive root systems aid with the management of stormwater runoff.

The battle against climate change is the primary driver behind global efforts to plant more trees. A 2019 study published in the journal Science claimed that planting a trillion trees — about 128 for every person on Earth — could capture more than one-third of all the greenhouse gases humans have released since the industrial revolution.

That conclusion has been disputed, but scientists agree that planting more trees is one leg of a necessary multipronged approach for combating climate change. Restoring forests, cutting carbon emissions, reducing the burning of fossil fuels, and protecting rain forests also are essential to curbing the global threat.

“Trees do take carbon out of the atmosphere and if you want to permanently store carbon in trees, you have to permanently commit to keeping the trees forever,” University of Chicago geophysical sciences professor David Archer told The Hill last year. “The fossil fuel carbon is so much bigger than all the carbon in the trees. You can’t do carbon neutral by planting trees . . . it’s sort of a Band-Aid.”

On an individual level, applying a Band-Aid often is the best we can do. According to the website for the city’s Tree Canopy Achievement Program, Vancouver’s tree canopy is 18 percent; officials have set a goal of 28 percent by 2030. The city identifies three keys to reaching that goal: Protect mature trees; preserve existing trees with proper maintenance; and plant new trees.

“Trees take 30-60 years to mature, so we can’t wait for existing trees to die before replanting for the future,” the website reads. “Remove invasive plants such as English ivy and replace high maintenance turf with shaded tree cover.”

Now, officials hope to surpass the 2020 standard for planting trees in the city. Because the coronavirus pandemic caused the cancellation of many public events, private landowners handled much of the planting last year, while staff, contractors and AmeriCorps members pitched in on public lands.

The city is planning a public planting event Feb. 27 in recognition of Black History Month in conjunction with Vancouver Parks and Recreation and the Urban Youth Program. The event will provide an opportunity for residents to act locally against a global problem.