In the middle of the 19th Century, when American settlers moved west into the Kansas Territory, they encountered a vast prairie grassland with only a few trees in the river valleys. Settlers received plots of land free from the federal government to establish farms or ranches. Settlers mostly came from farther east in the USA where trees were plentiful in the landscape and tree planting became a common practice in the establishment of new homesteads, to some extent to replicate where they came from. However, the settlers also appreciated the general value and usefulness of trees in their everyday life.
Local wood sources in Kansas for building construction, fencing, firewood and other purposes were extremely limited; planting trees by the settlers certainly had that fact in mind, and also that trees provided some attractiveness to the otherwise bleak almost featureless landscape. But in addition, settlers came to recognize that shade protection was important for their houses and livestock, and that the trees served as useful screens for home gardens and general windbreaks during the long cold snowy winter season. A dwelling shaded and sheltered by trees would be warmer in winter and cooler in summer. Fruit and nut trees were often cultivated near homesteads, to provide seasonal food, some of which could be preserved for winter consumption, as well as providing other services to the landowner. Broadleaf trees were also sources of forage for supplementary feeding of livestock.
The Kansas settlers likely did not consider the other benefits and services they enjoyed from tree plantings. Probably then and certainly now, a handsome tree-landscaped farmstead or ranch house had and has enhanced real estate value. Settlers probably were unaware that trees provided environmental services such as habitat for birds and other animals, improving local soil conditions, impeding surface erosion from rainfall and snowmelt runoff in sloped areas, lessening surface water pollution by carrying organic pollutants into the soil where they would break down, producing oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide, and trapping on their leaves and bark particulate matter from the air which is washed to the ground by rain.
The same values and uses of trees which were relevant to settlers in 19th Century Kansas are applicable to people living in a rural, suburban or urban area at the present time. The major difference is that today we are much more aware of the broad spectrum of goods and services trees provide us. Often ornamental trees in an urban setting are thought of as merely attractive greenery, without recognition of the other benefits they bring to the environment. The issue of air pollution is certainly of contemporary importance. We now recognize the vital role trees can play in extracting and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide. This is particularly relevant since it was determined that steadily increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are a major factor in global climate change, melting ice caps and glaciers and consequent related increases in water levels of the world’s oceans (70% of the earth’s surface) which will impact every country with a sea coast.
Planting more trees, as well as protecting natural tree stands and promoting their sustainability, will indirectly and directly be of benefit to all humankind. TreeWorld recognizes and embraces the multiple benefits trees provide.