Virginia Fights Climate Change With Trees

By Christian Trejbal
Roanoke, VA (December 14, 2008)- Last week, I urged readers to use live holiday trees suitable for planting as an environmentally friendly alternative to chopping down conifers. Individual effort, even collectively, can only go so far.


Trees absorb carbon from the atmosphere and store it in their trunks, roots and leaves. Think of them as natural carbon sequestration. Instead of capturing the emissions at the source and trying to pump them deep underground, the trees take them off the breeze and grow. And unlike promised technological solutions to global climate change, trees are ready for widespread deployment.
Blacksburg Town Manager Marc Verniel put it perfectly succinctly last week. “Trees are good,” he said. Yet the commonwealth suffers a net loss of forested acres every year. Some communities work against that trend. Blacksburg, for example, runs its own nursery. They call it “Trees for the future.” The town’s goal is to plant two trees every time it must remove one. Replacements don’t necessarily go where the old tree was, but in a logical location.
“We’re trying to be smart about planting the right tree in the right spot, not just what looks pretty, and we have to cut it down when it hits the power lines,” Dean Crane, town director of parks and recreation, explained. “Because of our park system and the way we use our land, you can’t forest everything. You still need land for recreation and parking lots and so on.” Unlike localities that worship asphalt and concrete, Blacksburg knows that trees improve quality of life and have far-reaching benefits.
The Virginia Department of Forestry knows it, too. It operates nurseries that provide seedlings for establishing timber stands, pulpwood crops, holiday tree plantations, urban forestry and other uses. It sold more than 33 million seedlings last year and helped reforest 81,000 acres. Timber companies purchase many of those seedlings to replant land they have harvested. Many tree-huggers protest logging, but it’s not all bad. If loggers responsibly replace the trees they remove and other variables align properly, their work can be a net gain for the climate.
It works like this:
As a tree grows up, it absorbs carbon. A logger chops it down and sends the wood to a mill. Eventually it winds up in the frame of a house or as furniture. The carbon in that wood no longer contributes to climate change. Meanwhile, new trees grow in the same place. They absorb more carbon until the next round of harvesting.
The Forestry Department also runs the Reforestation of Timberlands Conservation Incentive Program. It offers landowners cash for planting trees. An acre of loblolly or Virginia pine is worth $25, for example. If it’s on land protected by a conservation easement, that’s worth $75. And that is just for starters. A number of state and federal programs can make reforestation affordable. “There really are a bunch of different ones out there,” Dean Cumbia, director of forest research management with the department, said. “Depending on the circumstances of the land owner, what their objectives and circumstances are, there are many that would be helpful to them.”
Historically, settlers cleared a lot of land for agriculture. The state actively encourages protecting that land with conservation easements. It should put equal effort into encoraging reforestation. Idle acreage is a lost opportunity to reduce the state’s carbon balance. “By planting trees on open land that might be marginal pasture land that isn’t currently being cropped or grazed, we can store more carbon more quickly than if we were to go through the stages of natural forest succession,” Cumbia said.
Trees alone will not end climate change, but preventing global calamity will take effort on multiple fronts. Virginia will never be as forested as it once was, but the commonwealth is well short of where it could be. Besides, who doesn’t like a tree? They are nice to look at. They offer shade. They are what the land wants in its natural state.
Landowners interested in reforestation programs can call the Virginia Department of Forestry regional office in Salem at 540-387-5461 for more information.
Related Resources:
The Roanoke Times- Virginia Fights Climate Change With Trees
Virginia Department of Forestry
Trees Virginia