Trees play vital role in environmental health

At the start of the 19th century, as much as 95 percent of Ohio was covered in life-sustaining forests. Today, after decades of deforestation, only about 31 percent of the state is under the canopy of forests.

In recent years, within Bellefontaine alone, more than 300 mature trees have been lost as a result of three major incidents, Shade Tree Commission Shelley Moore reports. The ice storm of early 2005, the derecho windstorm of June 29, 2012, that also damaged the Logan County Courthouse, and the loss of ash trees that resulted from the invasive emerald ash borer beetle have left gaping holes in the city’s urban forest.

The commission tasked with keeping the city green, however, has been renewing its efforts to get residents involved and combat the continuing loss of trees in the community through an active citizenry and efforts that include a new groundbreaking film on the importance of trees.

“That’s not that long to lose that many trees,” Ms. Moore said. “We’re trying to recover from that in our community and asking how can we help as residents. 

earth day trees

Bellefontaine tree stewards Jared Dowdy and Barb South measure the circumference of an approximately 100-year-old red maple tree at Mary Rutan Park as Shelley Moore, Cathy Dinovo and Debbie Shellhaas look on Friday afternoon. (EXAMINER PHOTO | REUBEN MEES)

“It’s important to look at what we can do to encourage reforestation, even if it is just planting one tree at a time. When you look at it on the large scale, the impact of climate change is so widespread.

“Trees are the most valuable living organism on earth, but we don’t really understand them,” Ms. Moore, said noting that they sequester more carbon dioxide than any other organism on the plant, help prevent erosion and divert rain during storm events, reduce stress, provide shade, increase property values and are pleasing to the eye.

As part of the effort to improve the city’s urban forest, the tree commission started a tree steward program in which seven residents were certified to identify and care for trees in the first year and an additional five residents have signed up for the second year. Patterned after a similar program in Las Cruces, N.M., it is one of only a few such programs in the state, Ms. Moore said.

Last year, the stewards were able to create a tree inventory of 1,428 street trees throughout the city and in the coming year, they plan to tackle a roughly equal number of trees in city parks and public grounds.

Those efforts earned the city a Tree City USA Growth Award at the regional meeting that took place this week.

The group is also planning several events in the near future, including the first U.S. showing of a film that is expected to have a significant environmental impact.

The Call of the Forest — a documentary featuring the work of biochemist and botanist Diana Beresford-Kroeger — will be shown at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 28, at the Holland Theatre.

The film, which is a call to action for viewers to plant care for trees, is sponsored by Jubilee Partners of the Jubilee Mennonite Church and any donations collected at the door will support the Holland Theatre.

“Film can be a pretty powerful medium to open up discussion,” Russ Miller of the Jubilee Partners said. “There is a real interest among several of our people in the link between ecology and theology. This seemed like a film that would have a lot of advantages.”

The cinematography is described as “stunning” in the film in which Ms. Beresford-Kroeger takes viewers on a journey to some of the most beautiful forests of the northern hemisphere, including the sugi and cedar forests of Japan, the ancient Raheen Wood of Ireland, the walnut and redwood trees of America and the great boreal forest of Canada.

Although the documentary was released in Canada in March, the Holland screening will be the first time it is shown in the United States in advance of its official May 1 U.S. release date, Mr. Miller said.

In other activities to mark Arbor Day, the tree commission will take part in the United Way of Logan County’s second annual Community Cares Day on Friday, May 5; and will mulch 139 downtown tree wells and begin new plantings at new parking lot along south Detroit Street. They will also plant a tree that day at the Bellefontaine middle School, Ms. Moore said.

During the opening of the Logan County Farmers’ Market on Saturday morning, May 6, members will offer 30 young saplings free to city residents who want to plant them on their properties.