Monday, August 11, 2008

Trees Are the Answer

My dad, Clive Justice, has a bumper sticker on his car that says: “Trees are the Answer”. No, he's not a member of a religious tree cult. He just thinks that planting trees can answer a lot of problems: climate change, the food crisis, pollution, urban blight, and many others.

As a landscape architect, he has spent his entire adult life working around trees. When I was a child he designed the grounds of the Vancouver Unitarian Church at 49th and Oak and had trees planted along the main sidewalks and took some of the trees from the original site to complement the church building. Some of the new trees were scraggly looking things then but fifty years later they've grown larger and given the church and it's grounds more maturity and substance.

Many trees live long lives. Trees grow very fast initially and then their growth tapers off and they slowly decline over hundreds of years. The twisty knarled yellow cedar that grows all along the BC coast, can live for thousands of years.

The first thing I noticed when I saw Prince Rupert, was how many trees there were surrounding the town. We are surrounded by mountainous coastline, with forests as far as the eye can see. You'd think that with so many trees in the distance, we wouldn't need so many here in town. But the fact is that trees are important in town as well.

Consider our golf course, the Hays creek ravine, the wooded areas around summit, the beautiful vertical park on Fulton that features maples at the bottom, rhododendrons in the middle and a majestic stand of sitka spruce at the top of the cliff - trees are essential to the identity of these places.

Even individual trees have importance. There are four big oak trees in town I've noticed that include a pair of tall and stately oaks on the grounds of the Masonic Temple. There are two beautiful big linden or lime trees, with their spicy fragrance, one on E 7th and one a couple of blocks away on E 6th. There's a huge Cottonwood down in the “holler” between E7th and 8th. There's a mysterious MonkeyPuzzle Tree on Borden Street across from the little park.

Trees that are commonplace elsewhere can seem exotic in town. Drive up the Skeena valley past Smithers , and quaking aspen are ubiquitous. When the wind blows their circular leaves shake. But, it's hard to find them in Prince Rupert. That's probably why I'm very fond of the aspen that towers over my back yard. Here and there the odd chestnut tree, with it's big palmate leaves gives deep and satisfying shade in the summer.

Trees can keep a house cool in the summer, and protect a house against wind in the winter. They are pleasing to the eye. Their roots help to hold the soil together absorbing excess water and preventing erosion. Trees provide vital nesting habitat for birds. Trees help to moderate dry climates by pulling water up from the ground and allowing it to evaporate into the atmosphere from the leaves. Large forests, like the amazon, actually make their own climate by creating rain clouds. Without trees the Amazon would not get any rain.

Trees give off oxygen and take in carbon dioxide. They are an answer to global warming. Planting trees store carbon in a form that doesn't cause climate change. Trees also absorb pollution, taking mercury up from the soil and up to one and a half pounds of air pollution a day per tree. A recent study from Columbia University showed that children who lived on tree lined streets were 25% less likely to have asthma than children who lived on streets without trees.

We stand to lose many pine trees in the BC interior because global warming has made BC more hospitable to the pine bark beetle. The pine beetle crisis is leading to economic devastation in Northern BC, as a gap in time of more than a generation lies between harvesting the dead and damaged pine and the growth of more mature trees to replace them.

When you plant a tree, you have to plan ahead, because the benefits of trees are often not fulfilled for a generation. It takes decades to build up an orchard. But after twenty-five years you have a renewable harvest of apples, pears, cherries, or what-have-you.

The red and yellow cedar, the sitka spruce, could be used here, on the BC North Coast for timber, for local construction, for furniture making, for boat building. It takes time to grow a tree, and you don't realize the benefits right away. If we develop resources that we have here we can support each other when times get harder. If we let big corporations extract our resources without our say, they won't look out for our future. We need to grow businesses and contractors here that use local wood and get involved, as stakeholders in the sustainable harvesting of our forests. If trees are the answer then we need to take the long view while we still have time.


  1. Thank You Charles for this post. I recently saw the bumper sticker you write of here in the San Francisco Bay Area in California and wrote a post on my web journal Organic Light Pan ( as well. I have the same sentiments as you.

  2. Thanks for your comment Ismail. I went to your website. Your pictures are stunning. And I admire your writing. I read "The Patient endure" And "Taking Care of Our Mother" Beautiful.
    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Pine trees are useless when it come to generation of oxygen, They give off no oxygen... They consume hundreds of gallons of water daily, And give nothing back with the exception of paper and lumber. The water is disappearing from the aquaduct at an alarming rate in the south due to pine tree farming, Big industry and left wing radicals would have us believe that pines are good, wrong wake up people and pay attention to whats going on around you.

  4. Trees are plants. And all plants live by photosynthesis. Oxygen is a product of photosynthesis. So all trees give off oxygen.
    I haven't heard that pine trees are evil before. That's a new one for me. You might want to try books by George G. Macdonald. He believed that certain trees were evil. Ash, for instance.