Clean Water Blue­print calls for 10M trees

Kent County News - - OPINION - By HARRY CAMP­BELL Bay Jour­nal News Ser­vice

Larry Herr’s con­tri­bu­tion is mod­est: 50 to 75 new young trees, a bi­o­log­i­cal buf­fer for Sil­ver Creek, which bab­bles through 76 rolling acres of his farm in Le­banon County, Pa.

The na­tive trees will sup­port nat­u­ral ecosys­tems and pro­vide habi­tat and food for the brook trout that Herr cares so much about — and for birds, mam­mals, in­sects and macroin­ver­te­brates. Just as im­por­tant, they are there to fil­ter and ab­sorb runoff from the pas­ture where Herr’s small herd of beef cat­tle grazes.

Mod­est as it may be, Kerr’s con­tri­bu­tion is a vi­tal piece of Penn­syl­va­nia’s pol­lu­tion re­duc­tion puz­zle. His are among the 400 trees planted in the area by the Le­banon Val­ley Con­ser­vancy — and among the 31,000 planted around the state ear­lier this year by the Key­stone 10 Mil­lion Trees Part­ner­ship.

The part­ner­ship is a statewide ef­fort, co­or­di­nated by the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Foun­da­tion, to help clean and pro­tect Penn­syl­va­nia’s 86,000 miles of rivers and streams. Its goal is am­bi­tious but nec­es­sary — plant 10 mil­lion trees along streams, streets and other pri­or­ity land­scapes by the end of 2025.

It’s a col­lab­o­ra­tive part­ner­ship of na­tional, re­gional, state and lo­cal agen­cies; con­ser­va­tion or­ga­ni­za­tions; out­doors en­thu­si­asts; busi­nesses; and cit­i­zens — who in the first week alone last month planted trees at more than 50 sites. Through the years and plant­ing sea­sons ahead, the part­ner­ship is cer­tain to not only grow but also evolve with the chang­ing needs of the land­scape — and part­ners them­selves.

At the mo­ment, roughly 19,000 miles of Penn­syl­va­nia wa­ters are con­sid­ered im­paired, and the com­mon­wealth con­tin­ues to lag sig­nif­i­cantly be­hind in meet­ing its Ch­e­sa­peake Bay cleanup goals. Mean­while, the Key­stone State is to have all prac­tices in its man­dated Wa­ter­shed Im­ple­men­ta­tion Plan in place by 2025, to meet Bay water qual­ity goal. It missed its in­terim goal of hav­ing 60 per­cent in place by 2017.

They’re play­ing catch-up, and trees are a vi­tal part of the game. Stream­side trees play a sig­nif­i­cant role in re­duc­ing the amount of the ex­tremely harm­ful ni­tro­gen, phos­pho­rus and sed­i­ment that flows from farm­land and de­vel­oped (tree-less) land.

The part­ner­ship is driven by the knowl­edge that trees are the most cost-effective tools for fil­ter­ing and ab­sorb­ing pol­luted runoff, sta­bi­liz­ing stream banks and im­prov­ing soil qual­ity.

But the chal­lenge stand­ing be­fore the part­ner­ship is taller than the might­i­est na­tive oak. The num­ber of buf­fers in Penn’s Woods will have to in­crease six-fold if the state is to get back on track to­ward meet­ing its pol­lu­tion-re­duc­tion goals.

The com­mon­wealth’s Clean Water Blue­print calls for roughly 96,000 acres of ad­di­tional forested buf­fers to be planted statewide from 2015 to 2025. Add in ur­ban and sub­ur­ban tree plant­ings, and the num­ber comes to about 10 mil­lion trees.

To get the most bang for its river birches and other na­tive trees, the part­ner­ship is putting its em­pha­sis on the five coun­ties in south­cen­tral Penn­syl­va­nia that con­tribute more than 30 mil­lion pounds per year of ni­tro­gen pol­lu­tion from agri­cul­ture to the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay. The part­ner­ship can jump-start the com­mon­wealth’s progress with con­cen­trated plant­ings in those coun­ties.

There is no way the Bay Foun­da­tion, or any sin­gle en­tity, can ex­pect to plant 10 mil­lion trees on its own. Adding that many trees and chang­ing the tide in Penn­syl­va­nia will re­quire un­prece­dented col­lab­o­ra­tion of hands-on vol­un­teers and com­mit­ted lead­er­ship.

Part­ners such as con­ser­van­cies, con­ser­va­tion dis­tricts, wa­ter­shed groups and Trout Un­lim­ited chap­ters reg­u­larly plant trees by the hun­dreds. Oth­ers, as on Herr’s farm, put them in by the dozen. Suc­cess will re­quire all hands in all ar­eas.

With its di­verse map­ping, the pro­gram will ad­dress both agri­cul­tural and ur­ban/ sub­ur­ban runoff. On farms, the trees keep dam­ag­ing ni­tro­gen, phos­pho­rus and sed­i­ment out of the water. Trees placed in parks, mu­nic­i­pal prop­er­ties and other ur­ban and sub­ur­ban set­tings ab­sorb and clean stormwa­ter, re­duce flood­ing and help re­store aban­doned mine land.

With so many Penn­syl­va­nia part­ners see­ing the plant­ing of trees as a so­lu­tion — and mo­bi­liz­ing to ac­com­plish it — this is an op­por­tu­nity for the leg­is­la­ture to el­e­vate its own com­mit­ment of tech­ni­cal and fi­nan­cial sup­port to get the com­mon­wealth back on track.

A proposal to cre­ate a Key­stone Tree Fund would al­low a vol­un­tary check­off box on driver’s li­cense ap­pli­ca­tions in Penn­syl­va­nia. Con­tri­bu­tions would sup­port the Forested Ri­par­ian Buf­fer and TreeVi­tal­ize pro­grams man­aged by the state Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion and Nat­u­ral Re­sources.

Lo­cal eco­nomic ben­e­fits can­not be over­looked. Tools and trees like those used on Herr’s farm are pur­chased from Penn­syl­va­nia busi­nesses. This sup­ply-chain ap­proach is de­signed not only to cre­ate a sta­ble and en­dur­ing mar­ket place, but also to cre­ate in­cen­tives for landown­ers and part­ners.

Re­duc­ing Penn­syl­va­nia’s pol­lu­tion loads will take many trees and many hands. The Key­stone 10 Mil­lion Trees Part­ner­ship is com­mit­ted to meet­ing the chal­lenge. Clean water for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of Penn­syl­va­ni­ans and Bay wa­ter­shed res­i­dents de­pends on it.

To learn more about the Key­stone 10 Mil­lion Trees Part­ner­ship, visit TenMil­lionTrees.org.

Harry Camp­bell is the Penn­syl­va­nia ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor for the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Foun­da­tion. His views do not nec­es­sar­ily re­flect those of the Bay Jour­nal.

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