Are you breathing? Thank a tree!

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treeEssex Junction Tree Warden Warren Spinner pauses in a walk around the Five Corners neighborhood to look up at the mature maple trees in front of Brownell Library and comment, “If you’re breathing, thank a tree. It’s only because we have trees and all the other green vegetation that we have oxygen to breathe at all.” Spinner brings over 35 years of expertise as the City Arborist for Burlington and 14 years to his position as Tree Warden for Essex Junction and his work on the newly formed Village Tree Advisory Committee.

In 2013, Spinner and fellow committee member Nick Meyer began to develop a village tree policy that outlined a management plan to ensure the long-term health of the street tree canopy in Essex Junction. This policy was adopted by the Village Trustees last spring.

Spinner is responsible for ensuring that best management practices are applied to maintain the health of trees on village property. “Even in smaller municipal areas such as ours, trees are under intense pressure these days. The Tree Policy is our guide as we evaluate the health of Village trees and determine the best ways to keep them in good condition,” said Spinner.

The benefits of trees go beyond giving us something aesthetically pretty for our streets. In addition to keeping the earth’s atmosphere functioning by producing oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide pollutants, trees provide habitat for urban wildlife. They can delineate properties and give a sense of place to a community. Trees form a sheltering network that shapes our recreation areas and parks. And trees can act as screens that protect buildings from summer heat, and from drying cold winter winds, thus helping to reduce heating and cooling costs and conserve energy year round.

“Trees that line the streets of Essex Junction reduce what’s called the heat island effect from hot asphalt and help cut down on glare,” Meyer notes. The moisture trees produce also cools the air around us. At a time when the village is being required to spend thousands of dollars to redo its infrastructure for handling storm water run-off, the roots of our trees can mitigate that run-off by absorbing many gallons of rain water.

A tree needs soil, water, sunlight, carbon dioxide and oxygen to grow. But too often urban trees have been planted in an inadequate soil base with their roots compressed under concrete sidewalks. This man-made cover over the roots closes out all but minimal amounts of oxygen. Rainwater bouncing off the concrete instead of draining to the roots also prevents trees from manufacturing food. So the trees gradually decline and die. Under those conditions the life of trees is shortened.

“When we build in such a way as to prevent trees from reaching full growth, or worse, lose mature trees, we lose much more than something pretty,” said Spinner. “We lose the main function of the tree – its ability to convert sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into energy which then produces the oxygen we breathe as a byproduct. Trees were the main force for creating oxygen on planet Earth, and each tree provides oxygen for us for as long as it lives. The larger the tree, the larger the leaf canopy, and the more oxygen the tree is giving out for us. And since the leaves use carbon dioxide to make food, the larger the leaf canopy of a tree, the more pollutant is being removed from our air as well.”

Meyer also sits on the Village Planning Commission. He said there are planning options for building developers that can help keep newly planted trees healthy for many decades.

“It’s fairly simple for a developer to design a system for storm water run-off to be distributed beneath concrete sidewalks in a way that allows rainwater to rise and cover the roots of new trees from underground. Developers could be asked to include this type of design in future submissions.”

“The Tree Advisory Committee members serve as advocates for the trees in our village,” Spinner said. “We hope that in the future, Essex Junction will be known not only as a location for educational and economic excellence, but for commitment to green excellence as well.”

— Submitted by the Essex Junction Tree Advisory Committee