As Earth Month progresses and spring weather unfolds in Fairfax County, one of the most important environmental restoration opportunities is front and center – reforestation. Globally, about 18 million acres of forest are sacrificed to human activity every year. This is a tremendous loss for all of us, even if deforestation is not happening at a large scale in our literal or figurative backyard.
Trees provide essential oxygen and act as a carbon sink, absorbing and using the carbon dioxide produced by human and natural activities. On the flip side, forests emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when they are cleared or burned. Roughly 12 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to deforestation. That’s approximately the same percentage that can be attributed to all of the cars and trucks on Earth. This begs some questions, like why are we clearing our forests with such abandon?
The reasons are many and varied, but some of the principal causes of deforestation worldwide include clearing land for agriculture, logging, mining, and urban development. The choices we make about resource use on an individual and community level have an impact on our forests near and far. As we work to address food waste issues or pay closer attention to the sources of our food, we can help to reduce demand for clear cut land used to raise livestock and crops. As we choose to reuse products and materials rather than purchasing new items, we can reduce demand for new natural resources, including wood, stone, and specific minerals. Embracing and developing a more circular economy will go a long way toward addressing deforestation over time.
In addition to addressing resource use, we can also support reforestation efforts locally. In the past 20 years, approximately 35 percent of the urban forest in Northern Virginia has been removed. In fiscal year 2020, Fairfax County residents owned and operated 933,452 vehicles. In a single year, that volume of vehicles consumes more than 10.6 million barrels of oil. It would take 76 million trees ten years to sequester the carbon produced by these vehicles. Every tree counts, and though we can’t easily support 76 million trees within the confines of the county, we can do our part to maintain a healthy tree canopy given our geographical constraints.
The Fairfax County Tree Commission provides guidance to the Board of Supervisors on urban forest conservation and preservation, and works with the Fairfax County Urban Forest Management Division, Fairfax ReLeaf, and other organizations to promote healthy forest cultivation and management across the county. For more information on the county’s efforts to manage urban forests, check out the 2019 Tree Action Plan. If you are seeking information on how to select, plant, and maintain trees in Fairfax County, see the Tree Basics Booklet provided free of charge to all residents by the Tree Commission.