The Importance of Trees

by guest blogger, Maya K. van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper

"Trees are dirty and they take my open space." Those were the complaints of a homeowner who forced a community and conservation organization to remove 400 of the 1,300 trees they had just planted.

How do you respond to a complaint that trees are dirty? Perhaps trees are dirty, perhaps they do take up space in the landscape, but what would our world be without them?

From the first breath we take on Earth, we benefit from the existence of trees: That first lungful of clean, life-instilling air is made possible by the existence of lots and lots of trees.

As children we enjoy the adventure that trees bring--tree houses, tree-climbing, trees as imaginary castles or the home of a gnome taking us to magical places of play. And research has shown that exposure to trees and time in nature help diminish the harms of attention-deficit disorder in kids and adults alike.

As parents we appreciate sitting in the cool shade of a tree on a hot summer day while we read books to our kids or watch them play, all the while enjoying the protection from the sun and the musical rustle of the leaves.

By soaking up water, trees prevent unnatural flooding that can destroy homes and put lives at risk; whether we are talking about catastrophic floods or water in your basement, trees can help prevent the harm. As one expert once told me, "Trees are the best water pumps we have." Trees in just four Philadelphia-area watersheds saved a combined $6.5 billion in otherwise-needed stormwater infrastructure. Tree roots along a bank prevent the erosion of land and protect bridges, roads, and other infrastructure from being undermined.

Trees sequester carbon from the air, helping to slow global warming. Trees filter pollution that would otherwise contaminate our drinking water, pollute our air, and pollute the waters we swim in and eat fish from.  Each tree we plant can provide oxygen for two people for the rest of their lives. By investing $1 to $1.5 billion in protecting the watershed that feeds New York City's drinking water source (the Upper Delaware River), the city avoided spending $10 billion for a water-filtration plant and has some of the best-tasting water in the country. Trees did that!

Need more numbers? Over a 50-year lifetime, a tree generates $31,250 worth of oxygen, provides $62,000 worth of air-pollution control, recycles $37,500 worth of water, and controls $31,250 worth of soil erosion.

The mere presence of trees can increase the market value of our homes by as much as 15 percent, even 38 percent in one documented case. Not only do homeowners benefit, but so do towns; according to one study, more than "$1.5 billion per year is generated in tax revenue for communities in the U.S. due to the value of privately owned trees on residential property."

Trees have value beyond measure. Every aspect of our lives is touched and enhanced by trees.

Here are 5 things you can do to help the trees:
  1. Plant a native tree, treat it with care, feed it fresh water and give it clean air, protect it from axes that hack and neighbors who gripe, and plant another tree the day after that.
  2. Read The Lorax by Dr. Seuss to your kids. The original book is much nicer and more meaningful than the recent adaptation found in the movies. Where Once There Was a Wood, by Denise Fleming, is another lovely book that helps children understand the value of nature and trees, and what we lose when trees are gone.
  3. Read Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv, and learn how exposure to trees and nature enhances the learning capacity of children and helps address the challenges caused by attention-deficit disorder.
  4. Encourage your municipality and school district to plant native trees on public lands and school properties.
  5. Urge your municipal officials to pass an ordinance that requires at least a 100-foot vegetated buffer, filled with trees to the greatest degree possible, between streams and new development to prevent unnatural flooding, flood damages, and pollution, and to enhance the habitats of the fish, birds, bugs, and wildlife that also grace our Earth and lives.
Maya K. van Rossum is the Delaware Riverkeeper, and has led the Delaware Riverkeeper Network (DRN) since 1994. The DRN is a regional nonprofit advocacy organization that monitors the river and all of its tributaries for threats and challenges, and advocates, educates, and litigates for protection, restoration, and change. To learn more, visit

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