Celebrate Trees, Rejoice in Life

by Paul K. Haeder & r & Manito means "spirit of nature" in the dialect of the Algonquin -- "breath of life," if you will. Nestled within Manito Park's cultivated grounds are three greenish-white pines that have the honor of being the planet's longest living tree species.

Manito Park and Finch Arboretum are examples of how Spokane celebrates and cherishes trees.

Whether one opts for poetic or spiritual placations to trees inhabiting our own city, or requires citing the economic advantages of trees on private land and in our parks, it's nice to know there are tree advocates and caretakers like Carrie Anderson of the Urban Forest Council.

She's been the prime force behind Trees for Your Neighborhood, a Spokane program aimed at helping low-income neighborhoods in Spokane get viable trees planted. She's worked hard to educate Spokane -- including the forces of business and government -- on its wonderful native ponderosa pines and Douglas firs.

Anderson and others are vigilant in preventing a fractured urban canopy from spreading like a cancer, especially on the South Hill where suburban yards and the sentiments of "all-grass or nothing" meet the drought- and disease-resistant ponderosa pine.

"Most trees live longer than most people, and certainly in these times of our transient population, how can anyone think it is their right to take a tree from the community's forest?" asks Anderson, who has been working for several years to save ponderosas and to plant them and other species throughout Spokane.

Jim Flott, who now consults on forestry issues but was the city of Spokane's urban forester for years until May, considers the rationale of "too many pine needles" and "more sun for my grass" (typical anti-ponderosa pine sentiments) as pathetic excuses for upsetting a canopy that is vibrant, a host to bird, insect and mammal species and important in how Spokane's winds get dampened and our soils stay stabilized.

Urban forest experts like Anderson and Flott, as well as commercial landscapers and "tree surgeons" like Northwest Plant Health Care's Joe Zubaly, see the unnecessary cutting down of indigenous trees like tamarack and ponderosa as akin to desecration. Zubaly and his nimble tree climbers would rather prune and shape than chop down.

"I want to spend as much time with the homeowner to allow him to grasp the options," Zubaly says. "Pruning and dead-wooding are, from my standpoint, better options in most cases than removal."

These ponderosas can live up to 350 years in this region, Anderson says, and yet the typical homeowner stays five years in a home and then moves on. These temporary members of the urban forest hire sometimes disreputable companies to come in and chop down trees that are vital not only to fauna but to a neighborhood's microclimates, shading and wind dampening.

It's a heavy price to pay in a region that is drawing down its aquifer, and when the future may hold severe water restrictions, including yard water. Many tree experts and aficionados feel the non-native, water-sucking firs and broad leafs planted after Douglas firs and ponderosa pines are cut down will not weather future droughts.

Devotion to trees can be best expressed by a community fighting for small stand of trees down by a river, or even for some lone old grandfather of a heritage oak found in a city park or in a neighborhood. Life-evoking expressions are manifested in the act of preventing certain trees from being chopped down and removed from future memory.

If one doesn't have the sensibility (or intensity) to connect to trees in the way Anderson or Zubaly do, then the importance of trees to his or her community, from an economic standpoint, are presented dramatically by the National Arbor Day Foundation:

& lt;ul & & lt;li & trees can boost market value of an average home 7 percent & lt;li & the net cooling effect of one young healthy tree is equivalent to 10 room-size air conditioners running 20 hours a day & lt;li & one acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide puts out four tons of oxygen & lt;li & there are 60 to 200 million spaces along our country's city streets where trees could be planted - potential CO2 absorption: 33 million tons & lt;li & trees properly placed around buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30 to 50 percent and save 20-50 percent in energy used for heating & lt;li & 60 million street trees in USA have an average value of $525 per tree & lt;li & trees can stimulate economic development, attracting new business and tourism & lt;li & shoppers and renters are attracted to commercial retail and apartment spaces in a wooded setting & lt;li & visual exposure to settings with trees has produced significant recovery from stress within five minutes - as indicated by changes in blood pressure and muscle tension & lt;/ul &

Ask the "ponderosa guru" Rich Baker or any number of people what the benefits are of Spokane's urban forest, and, sure, discussion about soil stabilization, hydrologic normalization and stormwater mitigation might pop up.

These serious, informed tree advocates, however, still point to revelation -- of how important trees are to spiritual growth and a community's sense of place and pride.

Celebrating trees in our Spokane neighborhoods and planting the correct species that do well in this region (many of them are not native trees) require Herculean educational outreach -- not just directed toward low income neighborhoods or upscale gated communities, but also targeted at policy makers, politicians and the business community.

Sighing, Anderson adds that "We're just barely beginning to raise the awareness of the value of native trees in Spokane. Developers here are in a climate where they are not willing to do what National Arbor Day Foundation requires for designing a strong tree conservation plan."

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