America is losing trees and paying the price. A new U.S. government report has found that the country loses about 36 million trees a year — a full 33 million of them along interstates alone.
Most of the trees lost during this period (36 million) are likely to be dead.
The report comes at a time when something essential to America’s ability to use renewable energy and grow food is failing, and everyone, not just the cities that lost trees, could benefit from replacing them.
“One of the things missing from our energy picture is trees” Michael Jasny, a senior fellow at the Center for Biological Diversity, told Live Science. “The trees that are in our buildings soak up two thirds of the heat that hits the air. We’re losing trees that are cooling us down in our buildings and then pollution further escalates throughout the air.”
The report, which was released in conjunction with the “Reinventing Urban Agriculture as a Platform for America’s Sustainability,” predicts that other resources at risk include certain kinds of grasses and trees that are used to control weeds along roadways.
The report’s authors estimate that 1.6 billion to 3.3 billion trees will need to be replaced each year just in cities. The replacement costs would amount to about $70 billion. There are high costs to trees (specifically to public health) that can range from missing out on nature to costing an estimated $27.8 billion annually in lost tax revenue.
The Federal Highway Administration reported earlier this year that between 2014 and 2016 we lost nearly 40 million trees. Of these, an estimated 15 million, including three million along the Interstates, were merely damaged.
Scientists have speculated that economic development is partly to blame for these losses, and the report’s authors suggest alternatives to development, including ecosystem restoration and improved street trees.
Jasny said, “We have this interest in regrowing trees along the rails but we have so many railroads in this country that we just don’t have the new forests to replace the forests that are disappearing.”
A 2015 USDA study found that between 1999 and 2010, the last years for which numbers are available, we had lost 45 million trees in urban areas. The decline is even more acute in the country’s rural areas. Trees planted and maintained outdoors cost more than logging those trees on factory or woodlot land. A Washington Post report from last year showed that we are losing almost 60 million trees every year. The report, which was only available to view here, states that rainforests are only preserving about half of those trees we lose.
Read the full story at Live Science.
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