How Trees Benefit You: A Supplement to Section 1 Of "Forestry for 4-H'ers, Unit"
Trees provide wood products, environmental services, and psychological and sociological benefits. This article illustrates some of the ways trees are important to people and the environment. After reading this information, you can ask your 4-H adult leader where to find more information about the benefits of trees.
Wood Products Come from Trees
Wood is one of the most all-around versatile materials that we find in our everyday activities. Often products not made out of wood require its use. According to the USDA Forest Service Forest Products Laboratory, there are over 5,000 uses of wood; however, the number could be even bigger, depending on how specifically a single “use” is defined. For instance, is building construction just one use or many uses? If you consider the sills, joists, studding, molding, sheathing, siding, and shingles each to be a different use, there are obviously many more uses of wood in building construction than simply a single use.
Wood also contributes to our intellectual lives by providing cheap and abundant materials for printing books, magazines, and newspapers. Every year, the United States consumes 4 million tons of copy paper, 2 billion books, 350 million magazines, and 25 billion newspapers. About 93 percent of today’s paper comes from trees, and about a fifth of the total wood harvest worldwide is used to make paper. Forests in the southeastern U.S. supply about a quarter of the global supply.
Scientists and engineers are currently advancing the uses of wood. They are developing more efficient uses of timber in large structures. For example, they are improving glue-laminated construction to make it suitable for bridges, arched halls, and hangars. Researchers are also developing sheet materials for wood, plywood, and plastics. They are inventing new ways of using cellulose to make products such as nitrates, acetates, pulp products, textiles, transparent films, artificial silks, lacquers, and many others. Seldom-used wood substances, such as lignin, may soon be the sources of new products.
Wood is also used in energy production. Paper mills have used sawdust to generate power for decades, and now rising energy prices have driven up the demand for woody biomass. Wood fuel can be used for cooking, heating, and generating electricity. Wood fuel is available as firewood (e.g., logs, bolts, and blocks), chips, pellets, and sawdust. Some of the best trees for wood fuel (by million Btus available) include oaks, osage orange, maple, black locus, shagbark hickory, and ash.
Some people would say we are outgrowing the age of wood. In fact, we are only growing into it, as scientists develop more and better uses of wood.
Trees Provide Environmental Services
In addition to providing wood products, trees have many environmental benefits. Trees can moderate temperature, improve air quality, protect water quality, create wildlife habitat, reduce noise, create privacy, and improve human health.
For example, wide branches and broad leaves of trees help keep us cool in the summer. Trees do this by absorbing the sunlight’s energy to make their food in a process called photosynthesis. During photosynthesis, water evaporates in tree leaves, thereby absorbing surrounding heat. The air temperatures under tree canopies can be lowered by 6–10°F. Where trees grow in abundance, overall temperatures are lowered. Trees help clean and replenish the air we breathe by absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen. Carbon dioxide is used in the tree’s biological functions, and oxygen is a waste product. One tree produces nearly 260 pounds of oxygen each year! One acre of trees produces enough oxygen for about 18 people. One acre of trees removes up to 2.6 tons of carbon dioxide each year. Leaves also remove other harmful gases, such as sulfur dioxide, ozone, nitrogen oxides, and small particulates.
Tree roots stabilize soil and prevent erosion. Fine feeder roots grow in the upper foot of soil and spread out beyond the branches to hold soil in place. Trees can create windbreaks, often seen on farmland, that help prevent erosion by preventing wind from blowing across the soil. The tree canopy slows the fall of rain to minimize runoff. Trees also improve water quality by filtering and removing nutrients harmful to watershed ecology.
Your school, neighbors, family, and friends are all part of your community. Trees are also an important part of your community. Trees have profound psychological effects on people. A community’s trees help visitors form their first impressions. Flowering trees, such as crape myrtles, dogwoods, and crabapples, provide color and fragrance in the landscape. Trees attract businesses, increase property values, help homes and apartments rent faster, and increase worker productivity.
As trees are used in more ways and by more people, we must increase and stabilize production of wood and other forest products. We must consider both the benefits we gain from wood products as well as the environment. Overlooking either of these can be dangerous to all living things. Therefore, we should place high value on the living forest.
A special advantage of trees is that they are a renewable resource. With the right technical information, timberland owners can grow continuous crops of trees. By practicing good forestry, we can grow successive crops and keep up the supply of wood forever.
Publication 2637 (POD-05-19)
Revised by Brady Self, PhD, Associate Extension Professor, Forestry, from an earlier version by Jason Gordon, PhD, former Associate Extension Professor.
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Produced by Agricultural Communications.
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Extension Service of Mississippi State University, cooperating with U.S. Department of Agriculture. Published in furtherance of Acts of Congress, May 8 and June 30, 1914. GARY B. JACKSON, Director
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