What if You Can’t See the Forest Because There are No Trees?
Tomorrow is World Forestry Day, a day dedicated to recognizing those big
beautiful lungs of the earth. But the day is traditionally not only about
acknowledging those impressive plants lining the shores of our lakes and the
paths of our parks, but also about recognizing the huge role they play in
mitigating climate change and about working to protect them.
Although almost a third of the world’s land is covered by forest, each year more than 32 million acres of forest are destroyed for farmland, fuel, construction, furniture and other purposes. Of course as forests are removed, all the plants and animals within are also destroyed, inevitably causing extinction for some. About half of the world’s rain forests had been destroyed by 2011, the majority in the preceding 50 years. More than half of the world’s animal and plant species live in rain forests.
For example, The Wildlife Conservation Society says that poachers for the illegal ivory trade have killed 62 percent of Africa's forest elephants in the last decade. The demand for elephant ivory (tusks) originates mainly from China and Thailand (the latter ironically the host of this year's CITES or Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora meeting). Minkebe National Park has had 11,100 forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) killed in the last eight years and Okapi Faunal Reserve has lost 75 percent of its elephants in 15 years. Elephants are key seed dispersers for tropical trees, so when they vanish, the health of the entire plant and animal community suffers.
Forests are actually complex communities of interdependent plants and animals. Even the soil on the forest floor is home to a huge variety of invertebrates, fungi and bacteria, each of whom play important roles in cycling nutrients and supporting the rest of the forest. It’s alleged that trees actually communicate when they share carbon and nitrogen via fungi in a process not unlike the way our brains work.
Renowned Canadian scientific authors, David Suzuki and Wayne Grady, teamed up to write Tree: A Life Story (also available in talking book), the story of a single tree. They outline how the tree grows and receives nourishment and what role the tree plays in the forest throughout its life. Tree also looks at the community of organisms that share its ecosystem, and the tree is placed within the context of the events going on in the larger world during the tree's lifetime.
Trees have so many challenges from logging to disease to alien pests transported accidentally in our world of international commerce. Andrew Nikiforuk’s book Empire of the Beetle: How Human Folly and A Tiny Bug are Killing North America's Great Forests (also available in ebook) suggests that the pine beetle infestation currently destroying pine and spruce trees from Alaska to New Mexico is the result of misguided science, out-of-control logging, bad public policy and a hundred years of fire suppression.
Want to check out our some of our local trees before they’re all gone? Toronto, the city of parks, is home to hundreds of species. Check out this list of Toronto guide books and borrow one of our pedometers to start exploring. Start with Toronto's Ravines: Walking the Hidden Country or take on the whole country with The Complete Guide to Walking in Canada.
You can do more to support trees. If there's a city-owned street allowance at the front of your residential property, you may be able to get a free tree planted by Toronto Urban Forestry Services. Choose from a list of trees (many of which are native, which will adapt more easily than their exotic cousins), although the city will weigh in based on species availability and the appropriateness of your lawn. Visit www.toronto.ca/trees/index.htm or call (416) 338-TREE (8733) for more information.
Want one in the backyard too? LEAF (Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests) is a not-for-profit organization that offers subsidized planting of native trees and shrubs to property owners in Toronto, Markham, Vaughan and Richmond Hill. An expert from the Backyard Tree Planting Program will visit your home to offer advice and assess growing conditions before making a plant recommendation. LEAF will do the planting and then provide information on how to care for your new tree. Prices range between $50 to $200 depending on the species and the season; visit yourleaf.org or call (416) 413-9244 for more information.
Live in an apartment or want to do even more? Help reforest our beautiful city and meet our tree canopy goal. Trees Across Toronto is the city of Toronto’s native tree and shrub planting program that that takes place each year on the last Saturday in April; this year, the tree planting event is on April 27 from 10 am to 12 pm at Milliken Park and Windfields Park. More than 1,500 volunteers planted 2,000 trees last year. All materials and tools will be provided by Urban Forestry staff.
And if by chance you can’t use all the bounteous harvest from your fruit tree, let volunteers from Not Far From The Tree put your excess to good use. The harvest from your tree will be split evenly between you as the tree owner, the volunteers and local food banks, shelters and neighbourhood community (more than 12,000 pounds of black walnuts, sweet cherries, sour cherries, mulberries, serviceberries, apricots, plums, grapes, crab apples, elderberries, sumac, pears and apples were picked last year). What’s not to love about healthy food, hands-on action against climate change, and building community through sharing?
There’s more you can do to save trees and our common environment. Destruction of forests to produce soy (most of which goes to feed cattle), cattle, rice, palm oil and logging are also principal drivers of deforestation, so eat low on the food chain (it takes far more energy and resources to produce a pound of meat than it does to produce a pound of vegetables). Avoid palm oil altogether as major and important habitat is being destroyed for your fast food and margarine. Use re-purposed woods or at the very least, ensure you buy sustainably produced lumber (as certified by the Forest Stewardship Council). As our global population increases from 7 billion to 9 billion by 2040, and as more people worldwide rise into the middle class, the demand for all such commodities will continue to rise. The solution lies in the global supply chain and the message consumers need to send: “If you cut down trees, I won’t buy your product.”
“Trees are poems that earth writes upon the sky. We fell them down and turn them into paper, that we may record our emptiness."
- from ’Ode To Trees’, a poem by Kahlil Gibran