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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, March 16, 2016 11:51 am

Trees leave a living legacy

Pore through our history, and you will find them: We have grown up in trees, navigated by them, sat in their shade, and harvested their fruit and wood.

It is hard to imagine that 200 years ago, 20 million of Indiana’s 23 million acres were forests, resembling the woodland states of the Atlantic far more than the prairie of Kansas. By the early 1900s, 90 percent of Indiana’s forests were cleared for farming. Today, about4.7 million acres of forests stand, about 20 percent of the state compared to the87 percent that once was. By comparison, we have 14.8â million acres of farmland.

Only a few areas of untouched, primeval forest remain, and tree species loss has been staggering.

Diversity and old-growth forest are critical for protecting vulnerable species such as the Indiana bat, that make their maternity roosts in dead trees exposed to sunlight near streams. Each animal and plant serves an important role in supporting the entire ecosystem.

Trees protect our water resources in the air and ground, guard against soil erosion, and even provide natural air conditioning. One tree planted in the right location in your yard can have the effect of 10 room-size air conditioners operating20 hours a day.

Perhaps most critically, trees are our planet’s lungs; they breathe in what we exhale, reliably converting carbon dioxide into oxygen through photosynthesis. Large trees do this exceptionally better than other plants, turning 48 pounds a year of carbon dioxide into carbohydrate. As civilization grows, generating ever more carbon dioxide, we need ever more trees to control atmospheric ratios. Rapid global deforestation is essentially burning the candle at both ends; we are driving the delicate ratio of carbon dioxide in the air ever upward.

Spring is the best time of year to plant many trees, and this is the last spring before our bicentennial year.

A commitment to do better by our forests, air, water and future generations of Hoosiers will be a lasting legacy.

As part of that legacy, Sustainable Indiana 2016, a Bicentennial Commission partner, is encouraging every county to plant a commemorative "Tree of Hope" and discuss the future of trees and forests in their communities. We urge schools and churches, parks and businesses, individuals and civic leaders to plant and protect Hoosier trees. Find more about the "Tree of Hope" project on our website: www.sustainableindiana2016.org.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources has an online guide at www.in.gov/dnr/forestry/8337.htm for selecting, planting and caring for your tree. It’s a comprehensive resource for learning about arboriculture. For tree advocates, discover how your community is promoting forests and make this planting season your year to contribute.

In the "Transactions of the Indiana Horticultural Society" of 1888, Louis V. Boyd of Dublin, Indiana, is noted saying, "While we have trees in history, we also have history in trees – at least great periods of time recorded in their concentric circles. ... Volumes might be filled with historical facts, elegant extracts, exquisite legends, and gems of thought relating to our theme, but we must close with this: There is no object in nature so linked with the spiritual part and immortal aspirations of man as is a tree."

Perhaps the "Tree of Hope" you cultivate this spring will be a witness to Indiana’s next fascinating 200 years.

If you submit pictures of your Tree of Hope project, we will gladly share them on our social media pages. We will select a winner before May 1, who will receive official Tree of Hope recognition.

Sustainable Indiana 2016 can be found online at sustainableindiana2016.org, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SustainableIndiana2016, on Twitter @si2016, or on Instagram at SustainableIndiana2016.