The tree was absolutely massive.  I had never measured it, but it was easily 20 feet in circumference and 120+ feet high.  Its limbs stretched to the sky as if to support the clouds.  If that wasn’t enough, it stood at the top of a hill overlooking a heart-stopping view to the west.  From the hilltop, you could see for miles down a pristine valley of open fields and forest.  Turn around, and you faced the tree.  You were dwarfed by its size, feeling like a single leaf at the tip of a branch as thick as your body.

I lived nearby, so I went to the hill often to admire the view and marvel at that tree.  I was always undecided by which way to stare.  The view to the west is easily one of Virginia’s finest, but it was the tree that stirred my thoughts most.  What had it witnessed over the course of its long life?  What had happened under its spreading branches, and why?  Civil war lookouts?  Marketplaces?  Hunters?  Lovers?  Duels?  Hangings?  While my imagination ran rampant, the tree stood silent, filled with a knowledge I would never know.

Occasionally, I would invite friends to ride horseback there to stare, marvel and muse.  Eventually, I dropped off a small picnic bench, a place to sit, look and think.  Sometimes, I would pack a meal, blankets to spread, and tiki lamps for night light.  Guests would reverently watch the summer sunset as we shared thoughts about the history that tree had witnessed.

Today, I would consider the massive amount of carbon stored in that trunk.  Imagine the work this tree had done for us all!  While traffic streamed east and west on a nearby 4-lane highway, the tree was quietly pulling carbon emissions from the air to be stored in its trunk as it grew larger and larger.  The genius of nature is amazing when you consider its patience, persistence and beauty in the process of healing our dirty work. 

Nothing lasts forever, though.  Even the proudest of trees eventually die.  In this case, weather took a toll.  Large limbs came crashing down as pieces of the tree began to succumb.  Then, buyers found the spectacular view and bought the site to build their forever home.  In the construction process, the tree was removed. 

It was a sad day for me.  But now, years later, I feel profound hope.  As it turns out, the new landowners heard about our work to grow trees for carbon and nutrient credits, became interested and are now committed.  Their goal will be to convert 40 acres of pasture at the base of the hill into a hardwood forest.  The same trees will do double duty cleaning the air and water.  Two programs.  Two ecological benefits.  Two financial rewards, as well.  It’s no secret. You can do the same.  Today, conservation means commerce in the Virginia nutrient trading program and the international carbon offset markets.  As our founder, Chandler Van Voorhis, says, “By growing trees for today’s ecological credits, we give conservation a purpose and capitalism a heart.”  

The landowner’s goal is laudable, to be sure.  Replace one massive tree with 24,000 saplings on 40 acres!  Yes, this gives me great hope, but you know, we need so much more.  Yesterday, The Washington Post reported global warming is advancing far faster than projected.  The World Meteorological Organization reports we will likely reach thresholds we were projecting to reach this century … in the next 5 years!

Pick up the May issue of National Geographic dedicated to saving forests. “Each year, forests and other vegetation absorb up to a third of the CO2 released from burning fossil fuel.” Yet, “Earth has lost a third of its forests over the last 10,000 years, half of that just since 1900,” notes senior environment writer Craig Welch.  Today, extreme conditions related to climate change fuel the fires that multiply that massive loss many times over.  What are we doing to replace the “lungs” of Earth?  Sadly, not enough.

I may never live to see the saplings we manage grow to the size of my large limbed friend.  But even when that happens, long after we are all gone, future generations dealing with seething oceans, scorched ground, hurricanes, tornados, and other extreme weather events will be asking, “Didn’t they see what was coming?  Why didn’t they do more?” Believe me, now is the time to plant more trees.

Robert Banner is Senior Project Officer at ACRE Investment Management in The Plains, VA managing ecological credits for all concerned landowners.  Contact Rob at rob@acre-investment.com, or call his cell (540) 729-1335.

  

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