On April 27, millions of Americans will observe Arbor Day by planting new trees. While planting trees is important to the well-being of our forests, it is just as critical to learn how to protect both new and older trees from damage by invasive insects and diseases. The death of large, mature trees due to these pests can be devastating to neighborhoods, parks, and natural areas.
When Julius Sterling Morton declared the first Arbor Day in 1872 in Nebraska, he was ahead of his time in understanding the value of trees. According to the U.S. Forest Service, a 20-year-old tree providing shade on private property can return to the homeowner an average of $102 in annual energy savings, while only costing $15 to plant and maintain. A public tree that same age, such as the ones you find on your street, returns $96 in annual energy savings, storm water runoff reduction, cleaner air, higher property values, and other benefits for every $36 spent on planting, mulching, pruning, and other care. Over its lifetime, a large tree in the U.S. Northeast, for example, will provide almost $6,000 in these benefits.
In addition to the monetary value trees provide, a poll conducted by The Nature Conservancy found that 95 percent of the public consider trees to be an important part of the character and quality of life where they live, and that 93 percent are concerned about the insects and diseases that kill trees.
“Unfortunately, tens of thousands of trees are destroyed by invasive tree-killing insects and diseases every year,” said Leigh Greenwood, Don’t Move Firewood campaign manager, The Nature Conservancy. “On Arbor Day, if everyone makes a commitment to take simple steps, like not moving firewood when they travel or camp, we can work together as a nation to save both newly planted and already existing trees from being lost from our roadsides, backyards, and natural areas.”
The dangers of exotic forest pests in North America first became evident in the late 1800s with the arrival of white pine blister rust on infested pine seedlings as well as the accidental introduction of the hardwood-loving gypsy moth. Chestnut blight soon followed, and this blight spread rapidly across the continent, killing millions of mature chestnut trees. Over the last hundred years, other introduced species of invasive insects and diseases have killed tens of millions of trees in cities, towns, and forests across the country. These tree-killing pests include Dutch elm disease, Asian longhorned beetle, emerald ash borer, thousand cankers disease, hemlock wooly adelgid, sudden oak death, Sirex woodwasp, and many others.
“Prevention by everyday citizens is the key to averting widespread devastation of urban and backyard trees as well as wild forests,” said Greenwood. “Many of these insects and diseases can only be stopped by destroying the trees that are infested – a necessary but undesirable method that is most clearly tragic when entire neighborhoods lose their precious tree cover.”
Arbor Day tree protection tips:
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.