Christmas is a time to celebrate the season and a time to cut down trees. Holiday tradition can lead to arguments about what is best for the environment. Is it better to buy a real or fake tree or to abstain completely?
Steven Roberge, University of New Hampshire Forest Resources Specialist, explained how he determines whether cutting a Tree is 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 said it was like a tomato, except that it has been grown for 8-12 years.
Christmas tree farms are habitat that can provide ecosystem benefits or services to the natural environment.
It is still open space. The soils still retain carbon. They filter water. Roberge stated that they provide safe places for animals to play.
It’s a cycle that goes on, 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. New Hampshire is losing farm land and forest at an alarming rate. 5,000 acres annuallyRoberge stated that most of those acres are being lost to development.
Sequestering carbon and its storage
Trees also play a role in both sequestering carbon and storing it, which are distinct but related functions.
Carbon storageThe amount of carbon a forest has stored in its trees, living and dead, and in its soil and leaves. The forest gets older, the more carbon it retains.
Carbon sequestration is the amount of carbon trees are actively taking out from the atmosphere to use for photosynthesis. It usually peaks in young or intermediate forests, which are trees that are between 30 to 70 years old. The rate at which trees continue to sequester carbon throughout life is lower than it was in the past.
Roberge said that the young trees that are used for Christmas do not have a lot to store carbon. They are however sequestering a fair bit of carbon as they grow quickly. They are a crop so once they are cut down, they are replaced with other trees that will take their place.
Forests are transformed into development, which reduces carbon sequestration and carbon stock.
Roberge said that if you develop a acre of land, you not only lose the ability of sequestering carbon in the future but also the ability of storing that carbon on the site.
That is a climate problem.
Weather events become more unpredictable. It is the trees, farm fields, and Christmas tree plantations that are able to absorb four to six inches of rainwater, which pavement cannot absorb, that make the ground more resilient. Roberge stated, “The less pavement the better we are able weather those really severe storms that cause a lot o erosion and flooding.”
It is important to note that the final destination of a Christmas Tree is an important part in its environmental journey.
The carbon from a tree that has been harvested and made into furniture will be kept in the chair for a long period of time to prevent it from being released into the atmosphere. Wood that is cut and burned as fuel will release carbon back into the atmosphere. Wood-burning stoves can also produce particulates. Human health is at risk. Wood produces less smoke when it’s burned efficiently, which is why it’s less harmful.
Many Christmas trees in New Hampshire make their final stop at a local transfer station.
Many towns and counties will take this material and put it through a drum grinder or make compost. Roberge explained that this is just material that is going back into the ground, and that the decomposition is slow.
Some people have found creative ways to recycle their Christmas trees. For example, they offload them to farmers with goats who love to eat the Christmas trees. Treat them like candy. In some cases, the trees may be able to feed the goats for many months.
Roberge stated, “I believe that it is important to preserve the forest land and open space rather than allowing development.” He stated that it will be a huge help in the fight against climate change if we prevent lots of land being developed.
This story was produced and edited byNew Hampshire Bulletin,States Newsroom is an affiliate You can read the original here.