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O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree..

In a world where we can have a Christmas tree in any color/height we want, that is pre-lit, has an automatic timer, and doesn’t need any watering, why would we ever give thought to going to a tree farm and brave the bitter cold to cut down a real tree? Better yet, why would we pay $50-$80 for a tree we are no longer going to use after the holiday season? Because cutting down your own Christmas tree is all about making memories as a family, supports local businesses, and is better for the environment – that’s why.

So, what exactly are the benefits of having a real tree in your home vs. an artificial one? There are plenty! Real trees offer an aroma that is enough to get you in the holiday spirit. Sure, real trees require a little extra love and care, but the beauty and scent they offer is incomparable.

Teaching the next generation about sustainable forestry/tree farms is very important. Often times, youth are under the impression that cutting down trees is bad, and that’s not the case. Tree farms (and logging companies) are extremely sustainable, with new block plantings going in every year, replacing trees that were cut down. Not to mention, you are supporting a local business when you purchase a real tree.

Opting for a real tree has many benefits for wildlife and/or livestock as well. After Christmas, you can create a brush pile with the discarded tree in your backyard. This will serve as food and coverage for wildlife during the cold winter months. If you don’t have a backyard to do this, you can donate the tree to a local farmer who will use it to feed his/her livestock (yes, they will eat your Christmas tree)!

Another real tree option is purchasing a potted Christmas tree, this will allow you to plant the tree in your backyard the following spring. MSU Extension has tips and suggestions for how to do this.

While going with an artificial tree may seem more convenient and cost effective, it is way less environmentally sustainable and does not offer any benefits to wildlife or local businesses. On average, an artificial tree only has a lifespan of about 7 years. After several years, they end up in a landfill. It ultimately comes down to this: Plastic vs. wood. Going with the renewable option will always be better for the environment.


Facing the Facts

This week’s blog is brought to you by Bill Cook, MSU Extension Forester/Biologist. Read below for some great facts about our forests!

Facing the Facts 
Article #296                                                                                                  
By Bill Cook                                                                                       

Almost everybody likes quick facts. Consider some of the following forest factoids. For more information about Michigan forests, visit the “Michigan Forests Forever” website.

National Forest Facts

About one-third of the United States, 737 million acres, is forested. About 490 million acres are classified as timberlands, or forests capable of growing commercial timber.
Forests cover about 67% as much of the USA as they did in 1600. More than 270 million acres of federal land (11.5 percent of the USA) are set aside for use as wildlife refuges, parks, and wilderness areas. Most of America’s forest lies in the eastern states. The USA is not running out of trees or forest. In fact, indicators show just the opposite. For now. In 2012, our nation’s timberlands had net annual growth of more than 26 billion cubic feet of timber (a cord pile over 250,000 miles long), which is more growth than 20 years before that (21 billion cubic feet). When compared to an annual timber harvest of 13 billion cubic feet (a cord pile about 123,000 miles long), net growth is about double the harvest volume. There is enough standing timber volume in the USA to build a cord pile that would circle the Earth over 400 times.

Michigan Forest Facts

There are 14 billion trees in Michigan. Michigan has about 20 million acres of forest, covering about 53% of the State. This is an increase of over a million acres since 1980. Michigan was once about 95% forested prior to Euro-American settlement. The two main causes of deforestation are agriculture and construction of towns and cities. Logging, fires, and pollution do not result in deforestation, at least not in Michigan. The largest tree in Michigan is a black willow. The tallest is a 179-foot red maple. The tallest known tree in the world is a California redwood at 380 feet. Michigan’s forest is among the top ten largest in area within the USA. We have more timberland than Alaska! Most of Alaska is not forested. The most common tree species in Michigan are: sugar maple, red maple, red pine, northern white-cedar, northern red oak, quaking aspen, bigtooth aspen, black cherry, and hemlock. Together, they make up 70% of the total timber volume. A well-stocked acre of northern hardwoods will have the equivalent of 30-40 cords. Most Michigan forest acres have less volume than that. Michigan forests support 100,000 jobs and annually adds 20 billion dollars to the state economy ($500+ billion GDP). These statistics vary from source to source depending upon the criteria used for defining forest industry and related job classifications. On the average, Michigan’s trees have been getting older and larger for over 50 years. While this is true overall, there are important regional differences among tree species and forest types. Annual harvest in Michigan would form a cord pile 3,500 miles long. Annual growth would form a pile 8,000 miles long. All the standing volume would stretch over 250,000 miles, which is more than the distance to the Moon! The most serious threats to Michigan forests are loss of forest industry, invasive species, intensive browsing by deer, benign neglect (lack of management), climate change, and forest ownership parcelization.

Wood Use Facts

The average single-family home (2,000 sq.ft.) can contain 16,900 board feet of lumber and up to 10,000 square feet of panel products. In Michigan, that much wood might be equivalent of 3-7 acres of forest. Each person annually uses wood and paper products equivalent to one 18-inch diameter 100-foot tree. On a daily basis, that’s 4 to 4.5 pounds of wood, or the equivalent of roughly half a two-by-four. We use more wood by weight than all other raw materials combined (e.g. plastics, steel, aluminum, concrete). Wood products make up 47% of all industrial raw materials manufactured in the USA, yet use only 4% of the energy needed to manufacture these industrial materials.

Economic Facts

Wood is the third largest globally-traded primary commodity (by monetary value), behind petroleum and natural gas. The forest industry ranks among the top 10 employers in 40 of the 50 states. A century ago, wildfires annually burned across 20 to 50 million acres of the country, with devastating loss of life and property. Through education, prevention, and control, that amount has been reduced to about 2 to 10 million acres a year. Fire’s contributions to forest health have also been studied and better understood. Today, advanced technologies allow us to use every part of the tree for products. In addition to lumber and paper coming from the trunk of the tree, bark, resins, cellulose, scraps, and even sawdust are turned into products that range from camera cases to medicines to rugs. Some of the emerging products from wood-based carbon include plastic bottles, tires, and car bodies.  Forest industry is the third largest manufacturing sector in Michigan, behind automobiles and agriculture.

Environmental Benefit Facts

A large tree in full-leaf can daily “lift” well over a ton of water and carry it to every leaf. On that same day, that tree can cool as much air as six window-unit air conditioners.
A typical tree uses nearly a 1.5 pounds of carbon dioxide and gives off more than a pound of oxygen to grow one pound of wood. An acre of trees might grow 4,000 pounds of wood a year, use 5,880 pounds of CO2 and give off 4,280 pounds of oxygen. For every ton of wood grown, a forest removes 1.47 tons of CO2 and replaces it with 1.07 tons of oxygen. Most of the Earth’s “fresh” oxygen is produced by the oceans, not terrestrial systems. Clear-cutting is the only effective means to regenerate forest types adapted to catastrophic disturbance and are intolerant of shade (e.g. aspen, jack pine). Fall color timing is based mostly on photo-period. Color intensity and persistence is influenced by forest health conditions, frosts, other weather factors.

Wildlife Facts

Species such as white-tailed deer, turkeys, and wood ducks were almost extinct in the early 1900s. Wildlife conservation and habitat enhancement has resulted in flourishing populations of these and other species we now take almost for granted. Foresters work with other professionals to improve habitats and ensure survival of wildlife species.
Forest habitat is best manipulated through forest management. Not only can most habitat objectives be met, but they can be met without taxpayer or forest-owner expense.
Every action, or lack of action, has consequences for wildlife, resulting in winners and losers. The choice belongs to forest-owners and resource managers, whether intentional or unintentional.

Michigan has nearly 600 species of vertebrate wildlife. Most use forest for at least part of their needs. Birds are the most numerous taxonomic group.
There are probably more deer in Michigan today, than there were in all of North America 300 years ago.

Battling the Urban Heat Island Effect

Image result for heat island

You might consider urban areas to be the epitome of cool, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. If you’re a city dweller, you’ve probably found yourself stranded on an urban heat island, and you didn’t even know it.

The heat island effect is a term that refers to higher temperatures and air pollution in urban areas, which is caused by the structures within the urban areas themselves. Urban areas are much warmer than surrounding rural areas and can be viewed as lonely islands filled with oppressive heat and extreme pollution.

Many are worried that the urban heat island effect will be exacerbated by Climate Change in the coming years, especially if little is done to expand green spaces. Studies are showing that cities are experiencing more days above 90 degrees Fahrenheit and some populations are at higher risk of heat related deaths.

Buildings, concrete, lack of soil — all these things contribute to the heat island effect. As it turns out, having a city literally go green by planting more trees is one of the best ways to combat the harmful environmental effects. Introducing more vegetation, like trees, into urban environments helps with everything from basic shade refuge to cleaner air to the reduction of energy costs.

One of the simplest ways trees in urban areas can help diminish heat is shade. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that shaded areas can be up to 20-45 degrees cooler than areas that lack shade. The extreme temperature discrepancy between shaded and non-shaded areas plays a huge part in the need for higher energy costs. Strategically planting trees around non-shaded buildings helps reduce the need for air conditioning. Lower energy costs also means fewer pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions, so shade plays a role in maintaining healthy air quality in addition to keeping people cool.

Aside from shade and cooler temperatures, trees offer other ways to help clear the air of pollutants often found in abundance in urban areas. Trees absorb harmful pollutants like nitrogen oxide, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide, while simultaneously releasing oxygen into the environment.

Want to help reduce the heat island effect in your city? Get involved with your parks department or a local business and encourage them to plant more trees along the streets, in parks and near buildings. Or, if you have the room on your property, plant a tree! Be sure to choose a native species that will do well in the environment you are in. Also consider the mature size of the tree and its location (be sure not to plant directly under a power-line or too close to one). Get involved and make a difference in the lives of people in your community!

Michigan Arbor Day Alliance Honors Consumers Energy for Longtime Support


On Thursday, September 26, MADA’s Program Coordinator and ECD’s Executive Director went to Consumers Energy in Jackson to honor and thank employees for their longtime support of MADA’s programs. They were presented with a picture and plaque of the 2019 Arbor Day Celebration. Without Consumers support, we would not be able to hold our Annual State Arbor Day Celebration or provide communities across the state with trees to beautify their towns/cities. Kay Lancour (left), a Consumers Energy employee, has been on MADA’s board for many years and has played a pivotal role in the success of our Annual Arbor Day Celebration at Potter Park Zoo. We are thankful for her continuous support over the years and are lucky to have her on our planning committee.

This year, MADA was able to award six Tree Planting Grants, which will result in getting 73 trees rooted in communities across the state. Hannah Reynolds, the Arbor Day Coordinator stated, “The MADA Tree Planting Grant program is funded solely on donations from our sponsors. Without support from Consumers Energy and our other sponsors, MADA’s programs would not be possible.” Consumers Energy support for our programs shows their dedication to promoting environmental education and stewardship. We look forward to continue to educate people across the state about the importance of trees and make a positive difference in the lives of Michigan residents.

Michigan Arbor Day Alliance Honors ITC for Longtime Support


ITC award ceremony.JPG

Photo: ITC Michigan staff presented with award from Michigan Arbor Day Alliance for longtime support.

CHARLOTTE, MI -The Michigan Arbor Day Alliance (MADA) honored ITC Michigan at their headquarters in Novi, MI on Thursday, September 5 for their longtime support of the organization’s programs to promote environmental stewardship and education. State Arbor Day Coordinator Hannah Reynolds, presented ITC with a plaque and framed picture of students who attended the 2019 State Arbor Day Celebration.

MADA, a program of the Eaton Conservation District, promotes and facilitates Arbor Day through a progressive network for the stewardship of forestry and natural resources in Michigan’s communities. MADA is a coalition of organizations and agencies dedicated to the promotion and celebration of Arbor Day throughout Michigan. MADA’s dedication comes from the belief in the importance of trees and their role in community health and well-being. In addition, MADA assists organizations, businesses, etc. in planning and facilitating tree plantings to expand the urban canopy.

The 2019 State Arbor Day Celebration was held on Friday, April 26, 2019 at Potter Park Zoo in Lansing, MI. MADA, in cooperation with Eaton Conservation District and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources-Forest Resources Division, welcomed approximately 1,000 2nd and 3rd graders from Mid-Michigan to the all-day outdoor event focused on learning about trees and the environment. Students often leave Arbor Day talking about ways they can help better the environment and have a deeper appreciation for trees and nature. This annual field trip is offered to second and third graders in the state of Michigan at no cost. “It is because of our generous sponsors that we can provide this opportunity for the students, teachers and their chaperones to get outside and learn about our natural resources. The sponsors, volunteers, presenters, along with the planning committee, make this event a great success each year,” said Reynolds.

“Through our Right Tree, Right Place program, ITC works to help people understand what kinds of plants and shrubs can be safely established near electricity transmission lines, and the right places for trees. Planting the right tree in the right place, away from power lines, can help conserve energy by providing wind protection, shade and cool air. This can add beauty, privacy and wildlife habitat to the landscape while also protecting the safety and reliability of the transmission system,” said Donna Zalewski, Director of Local Government and Community Affairs and Philanthropy. “ITC is proud to support the Michigan Arbor Day Alliance and to encourage everyone, including these young students, to plant the right trees in the right places.”

In addition to the annual State Arbor Day Celebration, MADA offers a Tree Planting Grant to local units of government, schools, non-profit organizations, and more. This year, MADA was able to award six Tree Planting Grants, which will result in getting 73 trees rooted in communities across the state. Hannah Reynolds, the Arbor Day Coordinator stated, “The MADA Tree Planting Grant program is funded solely on donations from our sponsors. Without support from ITC, MADA’s programs would not be possible. ITC’s continued support of the Michigan Arbor Day Alliance shows their dedication to promoting environmental education and stewardship as well as our goal to expand the urban canopy.”

Learn more about the Michigan Arbor Day Alliance here. 

Learn more about ITC Holdings. Corp here. 

Authored by Hannah Reynolds, Eaton Conservation District and Kelly Fulford, ITC

Landscaping for Water Quality

Michigan is fortunate to have an abundance of high quality lakes and streams that
everyone can benefit from for swimming, boating, fishing, drinking water or simply
enjoying. When rainwater falls on a natural site, the vegetation and soils absorb and collect it. When rainwater falls on a man-made surface like a parking lot or roof top, it quickly runs off of it into storm drains and drainage ditches. While proper drainage is needed to protect your home from water damage, the water picks up fertilizer, sediment, pesticides, and other pollutants, rapidly carrying them into waterways as it runs off of your property. Eventually, these waterways connect to lakes, streams, wetlands, rivers, and other bodies of water that can be harmed by these pollutants.

Water quality in the lakes and streams in your area can be improved by incorporating simple landscape features designed to collect and treat run-off water.

There are many different landscape designs that exist today but are they protecting water quality? Are they intercepting as much water as they could?

Cities are already beginning to experience severe flooding, and with annual precipitation predicted to increase in the Midwest as a result of climate change, it is vital we tackle this issue head on. So, why are native plants and trees the answer? Research and case studies have shown that a single large tree can lift up to 100 gallons of water out of the ground and discharge it into the atmosphere (evapotranspiration) in a day. Native plants have deep root systems, which means they can tolerate periods of drought by extending their roots deeper into the ground to access water. They can also absorb excess water when needed.

Rain gardens are also a way you can help improve water quality. A rain garden is an area created to collect run-off water with a coarse or porous soil mixture of sand or gravel beneath a bed of native plants. Run-off water collects in the rain garden, soaks quickly
into the soils, or is absorbed by the plants in the garden.

If you would like to learn more about landscape designs you can implement at home, take a look at the Landscaping-for-Water Quality Guide. 

Image result for rain garden

Michigan Pollinator Initiative- Minimizing Pesticide Exposure to Pollinators

Pesticides are often used to protect plants from pests, but it can sometimes have some negative unwanted consequences when pollinators and other beneficial insects are exposed. We want to be able to grow healthy crops and other plants, but we want to have the least amount of impact on the insects that we need. If you absolutely have to use pesticides, you can reduce the chance of harming pollinators by 1) ensuring that the application is necessary and 2) reducing the non-target exposure of the application.

If you are considering using pesticides in your home garden, please take a look at MSU Extension’s Bee Aware brochure. 

1). Ensure that every application is necessary: 

a. Use preventative measures. To minimize the need for pesticides, you can start by using preventative measures for pests. One of the most helpful things you can do is encourage diverse habitat on your property. Diverse plants reduce pest activity while also attracting natural predators. In addition, if you plant species that are native to your area, they will be more pest and disease resistant (learn more about good trees and shrubs or native plant varieties). If you have seen some pest activity, bury the infested plant residues so more pests are not attracted to your yard. It is also healthy to expect and accept some pest activity. Not every garden or lawn will be perfect and you will do pollinators a favor if you avoid pesticide use as long as possible.

b. Practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Many applications may not be necessary, especially if you are just using a calendar schedule, and not using information about the risk to your particular plant. Integrated pest management is a way to make sure that you only apply a pesticide if there is a risk.  The four steps of IPM are:

  • Avoid using chemicals as a preventative strategy and
  • only apply the minimum recommended dose listed on the label. Also,
  • choose a pesticide that is effective for the target pest and the least toxic to non-pest species. Xerces Society has a helpful document on choosing safer pesticides.
  • Once you have chosen a pesticide, be mindful of when and where you apply it. Bees visit flowers.
  • Avoid applying when wildflowers are in bloom because bees are more likely to be exposed.
  • Remove flowers in your yard before you apply a chemical, such as flowering weeds in or around your lawn.
  • Bees are active during the day. Spray chemicals later in the evening or at night to reduce the risk to bees.
  • Also, be aware of drift and open water sources. According to an article from Xerces Society,  “Optimal spray conditions for reducing drift occur when the air is slightly unstable with a very mild steady wind. Ideally, temperatures should be moderate and the air slightly humid.” The drift of pesticides by wind or water can carry the chemicals miles away where they will affect pollinators and other wildlife until they degrade. You can take many measures to keep bees safe from pesticides in and around your yard.

If we take care of our pollinators, they will in turn take care of us. We just have to give them the chance.

This article was modified from the original MSU Extension article.