Christmas is a time to celebrate the season and a time to cut down trees. Sometimes holiday traditions can lead to debates about what is best for our environment. Should we buy a real tree, a fake one, or just abstain?
Steven Roberge (University of New Hampshire), is a forest resources specialist. He explained the factors that he considers when deciding whether cutting a tree will be an environmental boon.
Roberge states that there is a first caveat. Many people believe the practice is dangerous for the environment.
He said that if trees have been cut in a proper and thoughtful way, I have no problem managing our forest and cutting them.
Christmas trees are slightly different as they are a crop that is grown in a plantation. Roberge compared it to a tomato, but one that has been grown for eight to twelve years.
Christmas tree farms can provide habitat that can offer ecosystem services or benefits for the natural world. It’s still open space. The soils still absorb carbon and keep it. They filter water. Roberge said that they provide places for critters like Roberge to bounce around. The cycle continues as the trees that are removed are replaced by new seedlings that grow in their place.
It is possible to support a local farm and keep it open and undeveloped. Roberge’s home state, New Hampshire, is losing forest and farm land at a rate of round 5,000 acres per annumHe stated that these acres are mostly being developed.
Sequestering carbon and its storage
Both sequestering and carbon storage are performed by trees. Carbon storageThis is the amount of carbon that a forest stores in both dead and living trees as well as in soil and leaves. The more carbon a forest retains, the older it is.
Carbon sequestration refers to the carbon trees are actively removing from the atmosphere to use as photosynthesis. This usually occurs in young to intermediate forests or trees between 30 and 70 year old. The rate at which trees continue to sequester carbon throughout life is lower than it was in the past.
Roberge stated that the small Christmas trees are unlikely to store a lot of carbon as they are young. However, they are sequestering some carbon because they are growing rapidly. They are a crop so once they are cut down, they are replaced with other trees that will take their place.
When forests are converted into developments, both carbon sequestration as well as carbon storage are greatly reduced.
Roberge stated that if you develop an acre of land you not only lose the ability to sequester future carbon but also the ability to store that carbon on the site. That is a climate concern.
Weather events are becoming more bizarre. It is the forests, farms, and Christmas tree plantations, where the ground can absorb four to six inches of rainfall. Roberge stated that the less pavement we have, the better our ability to weather severe storms that can cause flooding and erosion.
The final destination of a Christmas tree is an important part its environmental journey.
A tree that is harvested and made into furniture will have its carbon locked up in the chair for a very long time, preventing it being released into our atmosphere. Wood that has been cut and used as fuel releases carbon into the atmosphere immediately. Wood-burning stoves can also produce particulates. Harmful to the human body. Wood produces less smoke when it’s burned efficiently and is therefore less hazardous.
Some communities compost Christmas trees. Many communities and counties will take such material, grind it in a drum grinder, or turn it into compost or mulch. Roberge explained that this is just material that is going back into the ground, and that the decomposition is slow.
Some people have found other ways to recycle their trees, such as offloading them to farmers with goats that are eager to eat the Christmas trees. A treat like candy for them. In some cases, the trees may be able to feed the goats for many months.
Roberge stated, “I believe that it is important to keep that forest land or that open space as an open space and not to have it developed.” He stated that it will be a huge help in the fight against climate change if we prevent lots of land being developed.
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