15 Minutes on the Importance of Trees

Episode Transcript

Lama Alsafi: 00:01 Hello and welcome to 15 Minutes to Change the World. Where in 15 minutes, you can learn a bit more about the world and how you can help change it.

My name is Lama Alsafi host of this podcast. The environment has become a hot topic in recent years. As more environmentally friendly products become available and accessible. Going green has become easier to accomplish than ever before from electric cars to reusable bags and straws. Canadians have become increasingly aware of their impact on the environment and are more open to trying to change it for the better.

Our guest today is Sarah Quann, program manager with Tree Canada. Tree Canada works to ensure a greener and greater Canada and is dedicated to planting and nurturing trees while highlighting the benefits they bring to Canadians. Sarah, thank you for joining us today.

Sarah Quann: 01:16 Thank you for having me.

Lama Alsafi: 01:18 Sarah I wonder if you can tell us a bit more about Tree Canada.

Sarah Quann: 01:20 Tree Canada is the only national, not for profit organization that’s dedicated to the planting and nurturing of trees in rural and urban environments across Canada. Tree Canada works really closely with municipalities, with community groups and with schools on green projects and neighborhoods where Canadians work, live and play. We also facilitate large scale tree planting projects in rural areas that are in need of reforestation and wildlife habit restoration because of human activity or other causes. Since 1992 Tree Canada has helped green over 660 school yards. We’ve organized biannual Urban Forest Conferences and with our community partners and sponsors, we succeeded in planting over 82 million trees across Canada.

Lama Alsafi: 02:04 And what are some of the biggest threats to the environment today and how has this affected trees specifically and Tree Canada’s work?

Sarah Quann: 02:11 Absolutely. Yeah. So over recent years in Canada, as many Canadians can attest, having watched the news, we’ve seen more and more extreme weather events taking place from wildfires in Alberta and BC and to more recently in our own backyards here in Ottawa, Gatineau with the tornadoes in 2018 and so this has had a strong impact on Tree Canada’s work in helping communities to recover after these extreme weather events. Tree Canada’s first response to a national disaster was through its operation relief program back in 1996 following the floods in Saguenay, Quebec. It’s a program that helps communities to recover by providing funding support for replanting initiatives. Tree Canada strongly believes that trees in communities helps to restore a sense of normalcy and calm for residents following major disturbances and disruptions in their lives. And that it is just as important as your homes and construction and building materials following a natural disaster.

Lama Alsafi: 03:11 And how does, how does Tree Canada work with the community? Does it work with schools or youth groups and how, how does this work come about?

Sarah Quann: 03:18 So Tree Canada, wouldn’t be able to take on this work without funding support through corporate donors and partnerships from individual donations across the country. And what Tree Canada does is we leverage the support to reach out to the communities. We would invite residents or community groups or communities themselves to apply directly to Tree Canada for funding support to help recover and replant those trees that were lost.

Lama Alsafi: 03:39 So tree planting is increasingly taking place in Canada and North America and developing countries around the world in order to reduce the impacts of climate change. Sarah, can you tell our listeners why planting trees is so beneficial for the environment as a whole?

Sarah Quann: 03:53 Trees are, and other plants are an integral part of the world’s carbon cycle. In the Northern hemisphere, we can actually see there’s the classic Keeling curve that shows global atmospheric carbon concentrations. And we can see looking at this curve in the spring and summer, while the Northern hemispheric forests are undergoing photosynthesis, we can see them breathing in the reduction of carbon dioxide in global atmosphere. And then through the winter, those carbon dioxide concentrations increase. So as trees go through photosynthesis, they draw in atmospheric carbon and they lock it into their wood, their branches, their leaves through the process of photosynthesis. Also releasing oxygen as a side project. Trees also are the lungs of the earth. So the trees in our streets and our communities in our forests, they’re breathing in carbon dioxide, but also other pollutants, particulate matter, and they’re releasing the oxygen that we and other organisms breathe.

Lama Alsafi: 04:52 So what are some of the benefits, um, of trees for people?

Sarah Quann: 04:56 Yeah, with over 80% of people in Canada living in urban centers, those trees that are directly in our parks, our schools, our streets are essential to our everyday health and well-being. They have psychological benefits, they have social benefits. There’s numerous studies that show the impact they have to our lives. For example, patients that are recovering in rooms with views on trees have speedier recovery than comparable patients without those same views.

Lama Alsafi: 05:26 That’s fascinating.

Sarah Quann: 05:27 Trees in our communities, they also help to provide ecosystem benefits. So these are things like storm water attenuation. They reduce the amount of water that goes into our wastewater management systems. Trees planted next to homes can decrease cooling costs and heating costs. They’re beautiful to look at. So they give us these kind of serene, peaceful oases in our built environments where we can relax, take a break and let some of the stress of our day to day lives melt away.

Lama Alsafi: 06:03 This is a fascinating conversation. I mean trees, we see them every day where we’re interacting with them, but sometimes we’re not very conscious of the exact benefits that they bring. So someone listening right now who might be inspired to start planting trees in their backyard or reforesting areas where trees have been depleted. What are some things that they should be aware of before they start doing these things?

Sarah Quann: 06:24 Tree Canada strongly encourages the rule of thumb of putting the right tree in the right place. And this all starts by looking at the site where you’re going to be planting the tree. So looking at different aspects of the location, how much sun, how much shade would the tree be getting, what are the soil conditions? Is there compaction? And also considering what other existing or future plant infrastructure might be going in, so homes, pools, sheds. Another important, really important piece is to check for underground utilities. And Canadians can do this by calling their local municipality to find out how that can be done. Avoiding underground sewers, pipes, electrical is, is really key. The second piece is to select the right tree for your site.

Tree Canada strongly encourages the planting of native species when possible as these provide high habitat value for local wildlife in our urban environments as well. So this is considering a trees hardiness, how big it’s going to be at maturity, what its canopy spread is going to be. And what benefits specifically you as the homeowner or the community group are interested in? Are you interested in a tree that’s going to bear fruit or nuts? Is it about providing shade? Trees are great for providing noise and visual buffers, especially along busy streets. So those are all really key important considerations when selecting a tree. So Tree Canada on our website at treecanada.ca we do have a list of trees in Canada where we show whether trees are native introduced, non-native and whether they do have the fruit or nut benefit as well.

Lama Alsafi: 08:04 And Sarah, how can someone who’s listening at home right now or in their car take action? What are some tangible things that they can do to make change?

Sarah Quann: 08:10 Many Canadians living in urban areas may not have access to their own private backyard. So there are some key actions that individuals can take. One of them is to get involved with Tree Canada by donating, by learning more about trees, by educating their friends, their family, their neighbors. Tree Canada has the National Greening Program where individuals can get involved. It’s a mass seedling reforestation program, $4 a tree. Tree Canada find sites in rural areas that are in need of tree planting. These can be sites where there’s some kind of natural disturbance where trees aren’t going to regrow naturally or they can be afforestation projects where there’s abandoned agricultural land. Trees aren’t returning to the site. And so Tree Canada is helping land owners to reclaim those lands.

Another way is to get involved with National Tree Day. So National Tree Day takes place every year, on the third Wednesday in September. Tree Canada is going to be hosting six community events where individuals can come out and volunteer and plant trees. And where those events aren’t taking place, we would love to see Canadians get involved with National Tree Day by hosting their own community events, workshops, tree planting events where they live. In addition to tree planting and to supporting Tree Canada and its mission. We really encourage individuals to preserve and care for the trees that are already existing in our environment. These mature trees that have been established for many years provide exponentially more environmental benefits to Canadians than newly planted trees. So one piece is to make sure that the root zone is clear of anything that could compact the soil and that typically would be the area underneath the canopy cover. So making sure not to park vehicles, to not lock anything to the trunk and to have a certified arborist come in every now and then to take a look and do any required pruning to keep the tree healthy and stable over time.

Lama Alsafi: 10:10 That’s fantastic. Sarah, thank you so much for joining us today.

Sarah Quann: 10:13 Thanks for having me.

Lama Alsafi: 10:14 It’s been a pleasure speaking with you. Thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in. As always, you can stay up to date on the newest episode of 15 Minutes to Change the World on Spotify and iTunes.