It is generally a widely accepted fact that the preservation of trees is vital to the health of our earth and the warming and cooling balance of our atmosphere. We know that millions of acres of forest land across the world get destroyed on an annual basis, largely due to the continued growth of urban areas in developing nations, as well as economic and agricultural pursuits.
A fair amount of this can be worrisome to the environment, as deforestation contributes heavily to the release of large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which has a major warming effect on the planet at large. For this reason, environmental organizations and governments within the United States and across the globe have worked tirelessly to pass regulations and provide market-based incentives to reduce deforestation and encourage the planting of a significant number of new trees every year. It is nearly universally believed that taking these types of proactive measures is not only greatly beneficial for the environment but also essential for the long-term survival of both the United States and the planet.
However, what if that was only one part of the larger story?
What if there are tree removal measures—exceptions to the measures we have been told are necessary for decades—that could also help the environment in surprising ways?
While it’s not what you would expect to hear when it comes to bringing positive change to the atmosphere, as tree professionals, such as those at Mr. Tree Services may reliably inform you, there actually is evidence that cutting down trees can have some important environmental benefits.
Why is this the case?
We know trees naturally convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, so cutting trees down can bring about a large increase in greenhouse gas emissions, resulting in global warming. However, it should be noted that cutting down trees in various snow-covered places could potentially lead to a net benefit for the climate due to the cooling effect of the snow.
This is because surfaces that are covered in snow are white, which means they reflect sunlight. If you’re dealing with a surface that’s darker in color, such as a forest, it will absorb more light and therefore be warmer than a light surface. The albedo effect is the term used to represent the concept of how much solar energy reflects off a surface. Light versus dark contrast is key to this, as a light-colored surface, such as white snow, acts as a mirror reflecting heat off it and bouncing it back into space.
There are some areas across the world, including in the United States, where an abundance of snow exists, which opens up space where the sun can have its energy reflected by that snow. This may not only cancel out the amount of carbon dioxide in a tree, but may also exceed the environmental benefits derived from a standing tree’s carbon dioxide conversion.
While in a vacuum trees are more valuable standing than being cut down in terms of carbon dioxide reduction, the issue is far more complex. The carbon dioxide/oxygen aspect can be outweighed by the overall impact of a surface’s characteristics of its landscape.
When a forest has high elevations and a large amount of snow, this tends to keep trees growing at an incredibly slow pace. Because of this, the potential for carbon dioxide intake is limited, but the albedo effect comes into play in these instances due to the solar energy reflected off the white surface of the snow.
When accounting for the albedo effect, it has been found that shortening rotation periods in harvesting and planting certain tree species in designated snow-filled areas can have a net-positive effect on the environment. Ultimately, this creates a system that incentivizes reforestation while likewise incentivizing efforts to curtail deforestation.
There’s also the competition aspect among trees that live together in a crowded forest area. When trees are in their growing stages, they absorb food and water and store them in the roots, leaves, branches, and trunks. This makes forests important assets to nations across the globe.
However, if trees get too crowded, they end up competing against each other for water and light. Physically distressed trees become especially prone to insect attacks, disease, and drought. Removing some trees, particularly the ones that are physically distressed, can relax the competition among trees and allow the remaining trees to grow healthy and large in the process.
Thinning can help this process enormously, but the key to carrying this out properly is early thinning, which must be completed before trees begin to fight over light and water. If this is done correctly, the remaining trees can grow faster. It’s difficult to thin older, more run-down trees because they have already begun to be weakened by the competition. So it’s crucial to act as quickly as possible.
But carbon dioxide storage, the albedo effect, and competition among trees aren’t the only reasons to cut down trees in targeted areas across the United States and the world. There are plenty of ecological reasons for cutting trees down.
When trees are cut down, it improves habitats for many species that reside in forest areas. It also maintains the health of the forest while properly shapes the forest for the future.
Believe it or not, processing and manufacturing wood products has a lower environmental impact than most raw materials, so saving a tree only to use an environmentally inferior raw material would not only make for the production of an inferior product, but it could very well have a net negative environmental impact as well.