Since the conclusion of the Paris Climate meeting, I have been thinking and reading about how the US will meet its obligation to lower CO2 emissions. A significant contribution could come from increasing the country’s forest canopy, especially in cities: Cities Need Trees. Numerous studies have documented the effects trees have on storing carbon, reducing pollution, ameliorating the urban heat island effect, and improving the well-being and health of people who live in cities. Trees must be considered part of an urban environment’s infrastructure, as essential as storm sewers, lighting, and sidewalks. Retrofits and future developments should include room for trees, accommodating their root and canopy needs when designing new parking lots, roads, and other developments. Growing the urban forest is an investment in community health and safety.
But we need to understand the context of our planting sites. As I discussed in one of my first blog posts (http://shoestringseed.com/blog3/2013/02/27/the-importance-of-knowing-where-you-are/) location and species selection are critical to success. My fear is that we will focus on the easy solution: “plant more trees!” to the detriment of less conspicuous species. Grassland birds are declining faster than any other category of avian species. This country has converted a greater percentage of prairie than any other native ecosystem. Shelterbelts planted adjacent to native grasslands may cause more harm than good especially if the species planted are aggressive or invasive as I have seen first hand. Prairies also sequester carbon especially in the soil. We are still discovering the life forms and nutrient cycles right under our feet. My hope is that agricultural policy will encourage the preservation of grasslands and potentially subsidize their restoration in areas poorly suited to cultivation. Forests and riparian areas also need to be restored not only to store carbon but also to buffer waterways from pollution, store floodwaters, and provide habitat in urban areas. Climate change presents an opportunity to restore ecosystems and build resilience back into our environment but it won’t be easy.