Study suggests traditional playgrounds could do more to reduce childhood obesity
KATE HAMMER — EDUCATION REPORTER From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
Video games, the Internet and fast food take a lot of the blame for childhood obesity, but there’s growing evidence for an unlikely addition to the list of usual suspects: The school playground.
For decades, schools have chopped down trees and replaced them with asphalt, monkey bars and basketball nets all in the belief that it would encourage exercise and make kids happier, but a growing body of research suggests the opposite is true.
In the fall, researchers at the University of Western Ontario will resume a study in which they plant global positioning systems on elementary school children in London, Ont., in an effort to understand how their environment influences their activity levels.
The study, which is in its first phases, is the largest of its kind in Canada and will explore factors at school and in the surrounding community. The goal is to help researchers understand how playsets can be intimidating, why some kids who live only a kilometre away get a ride to school every day and how to make changes that encourage a healthy lifestyle.
Climbing childhood obesity rates – Statistics Canada says about one-in-four Canadian school-aged children are overweight – as well as evidence that exercise and greenery can be a boon to student learning have helped fuel interest in building exercise-friendly spaces for children.
But change in the schoolyard – which is supposed to foster an active break from indoor lessons – is likely to be slow, with outdoor spaces low on the priority list in an era of budget crunches and crumbling infrastructure.
Most Canadian school playgrounds are built in the if-you-build-it-they-will-play tradition of schoolyard architecture: Flat, barren expanses of asphalt with little seating, less shade, and one monolithic metal play structure.
During recess time in the spring there’s no shade, and in winter, “half the school population is waiting for it to end, plastered against the door,” said Cam Collyer, program director for Evergreen, a national charity that has rebuilt nearly 3,000 playgrounds.
He said that for many years, playground design amounted to picking a gym set out of a catalogue.
“It’s been done one way for a long time, it’s like a bad habit.”
Although some school boards have begun working with Evergreen, some community groups are taking matters into their own hands, funding changes to playgrounds through grants and bake sales.
Evergreen designers replace concrete with winding pathways, stone artwork, diverse but robust greenery and open-ended play elements like wood posts. The charity has 18 designers across the country, and Mr. Collyer said “their dance cards are full.”
Until recently, the number of playgrounds in a neighbourhood was assumed to have a correlation with the activity levels of its youngest residents, said Jason Gilliland, director of the University of Western Ontario’s Urban Development Program, and leader of the GPS study.
By tracking school children with GPS, Dr. Gilliland and his colleagues are using data to turn that assumption on its head. GPS data have helped researchers discover that some kids won’t use the jungle gym because the older kids are monopolizing it, and that tree-lined streets make a child more likely to walk to school because they feel more shielded from traffic.
“Cities and policy makers are clamouring for this kind of information,” he said.
One of his PhD students, Janet Loebach, started a pilot project with 80 London children last school year. For one week in the winter and again in the spring, students in Grades 5 through 8 wore a GPS around their necks, an activity-tracking accelerometre around their waists, and recorded their activities in a diary.
Preliminary data show students huddled in the shade of school buildings, very little after-school use of the playgrounds and not enough time being active to generate any health benefits.
Ms. Loebach expected to see the students spending more time outdoors in the spring than in the winter, and she was surprised to find that regardless of the season, about two-thirds of the kids were nearly always indoors.
“We tend to think as adults that because we used to be kids, we understand their experience but we really don’t,” she said.
Ms. Loebach will follow up this fall with the students she tracked last spring, and over the next three years, the researchers will follow 1,200 children in 60 schools across southwestern Ontario. The participants will be tracked for one week in the spring, and one week the following fall. In addition to comparing students who change schools over the summer to those who stay put, Dr. Gilliland’s team will also track air quality and compare the activity levels of children in rural, small town, urban and suburban settings.
Spare these trees-Our priceless urban forest is fighting for its life
Winnepeg Free Press Ian Tizzard
Posted: 08/19/2011 1:42 PM
HADAS PARUSH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
One of Winnipeg's most magnificent trees is this cottonwood in McBeth Park, along the Red River north of Kildonan Park.
OUR enviable urban forest — the collection of trees that line our streets, shade our lawns and populate our parks — faces constant challenges. It’s hard enough to find big shade trees that grow well here, and when we do find them, we put them in a killer environment: our trees absorb our cars’ exhaust, many of our roads don’t allow for proper root growth, in summer trees swelter under the heat-island effect that makes the city up to 10 degrees hotter than surrounding areas, and in winter the salt and sand from our roads corrodes them. Aside from our ill-treatment of them, bugs and disease lurk that can kill off the entire population of a tree species if left unchecked.
They take that so we can enjoy the way they cut the wind in winter and shade us in summer, and we can all sense a necessity to have some connection to nature within the boundaries of any city.
What we put them through is asking a lot, and we don’t give enough back to keep them in the best shape. Certainly, we don’t maintain them well enough, and we don’t remove diseased ones soon enough.
Under constant pressure, the trees persist, stubbornly coping with a host of challenges we make them face. Yet, they will fail without vigilant help from us. They suffer for us, under attack all the time, and we neglect them; the least we owe them is more than we give.
The city can put a dollar value on part of our urban forest, pegging the worth of 160,000 city-owned elms on boulevards and in parks at $594 million. That amount comes from applying a formula devised by U.S.-based Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers, a formula that accounts for qualities such as height and trunk diameter, as well as condition and species. But that value doesn’t count the approximately 60 per cent of city-owned trees other than elms. Nor does it count the vast majority of the estimated eight million trees that grow within the perimeter, owned by the city, the province and individuals. All told, our collection of trees in Winnipeg could be worth billions. But we know enough to value our trees for more than the money they represent.
Tim McLachlan, a landscape architecture professor at the University of Manitoba, calls trees in the city "urban sponges" that pull pollutants and dust out of the air, while they absorb the elements of weather. "During winter and summer the trees act as a buffer between us and the extreme temperatures, either reducing wind chill in the winter or blocking us from heat in the summer," he says. "But besides helping us cool and heat our homes, a plentiful tree population makes it more likely that people can interact with their environment. I hear the term ‘nature deficit disorder’ used a lot lately, and the trees in an urban forest allow us to keep a connection to the greater world. They’re biological, something to relate to, more like us than buildings, concrete and asphalt."
Wendy Land's elm is dying of Dutch Elm disease. It is about 150 years old, one of the first trees planted in Wolseley. (PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
Wendy Land can tell you about the depth of potential connections between people and trees. "I’m planning to have a wake for it, a sort of goodbye party," she says, sitting in the porch of her Wolseley area home, talking about the dying 150-year-old elm on her front lawn, one of the first trees planted on her street, at the moment still towering above Land’s two-storey house. But the orange dot spray-painted on the trunk identifies the tree as having Dutch elm disease, its water-conducting vascular system choking on the Ophiostoma ulmi fungus. Land expects a city removal crew to cut it down by the end of summer.
"It’s been like a family member," she says, telling of her family’s desperate attempts to save the big elm since it showed signs of the disease. Despite thousands of dollars in arborists’ bills for fungicide injections and aggressive pruning, though, "they said it couldn’t take any more loss of branches without making the canopy too small for the tree to survive even without the disease."
Land insists she had a healthy tree. You can see a slight indent in the tree’s bark, around the trunk, where Land and her family have for years placed Tanglefoot bands, which help prevent the wingless canker worm moth from climbing up to eat all the leaves in a tree. The resulting defoliation weakens a tree, leaving it attractive to the fungus-carrying elm bark beetle. Land says she also treated the tree to pruning about every four years, to remove dead wood the beetles prefer for summer breeding.
Nevertheless, the fungus can also spread through grafts that commonly form between the root systems of mature nearby trees. When arborists Land consulted last year heard a city crew had removed a fungus-infected boulevard elm from in front of Land’s house in 2009, they figured her tree got sick via root graft transmission of fungus from that boulevard tree.
"This is a result of something the city hasn’t done," says Land, blaming her tree’s impending death on an inadequate pruning cycle for city-owned trees that left the previous boulevard tree weak and susceptible to disease. "These trees haven’t been pruned in at least 15 years," she says, indicating boulevard trees on her block that have numerous dead branches, each one ready to provide a site for beetles to breed. Moreover, she says, most marked elms stand for up to a year after being identified, all the while threatening nearby trees.
A city forestry crew works to remove a diseased elm from Wordsworth Way. (PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
Land makes points about pruning and rapid removal no forester could argue with, but the forestry branch can only afford to do an inadequate job. City forester Martha Barwinsky says civic funding supporting the urban forest has remained "relatively steady" over the last four years, allowing for a pruning cycle of once every 13 years (she would prefer it every eight) and a replant rate of 0.75 to one.
Land’s main concern is for the city’s elm trees, many of which populate her neighborhood so densely, but in other parts of the city, ash trees have come to dominate the neighbourhood flora. Prior to 1975, the city planted almost nothing but hardy elms. When the threat against them arose, the city focused on ash trees, with not many other shade trees to choose from. By 2005, then city forester Dave Domke had established a "25 per cent rule" that now calls for planting 25 per cent each of ash, elm and linden and 25 per cent of other species. Nevertheless, our reliance on ash as a compliment to the elms has given us an ash population of about 280,000, more than twice that of elms. Anytime now, the emerald ash borer will appear here to threaten every one of them.
The voracious emerald ash borer kills trees directly, taking a tree’s nutrients for itself. Enough of them feeding under the bark will starve an ash to death in as little as two years. It first appeared in Detroit in 2002 (native to Asia, probably traveling by shipping crate) and has since killed tens of millions of ash trees through the American midwest and in parts of Ontario and Quebec. Loss rates of ash trees in affected areas range around 20 per cent a year. Compare that to our Dutch elm loss rate, which city officials say is about two per cent a year.
Canadian efforts to contain the emerald ash borer have proven relatively successful. To the east, it only ranges as close as southern Ontario. To the south, though, it appeared in St. Paul, Minn. in the spring of 2009. Barwinsky believes its arrival here is inevitable. "The elm bark beetle was brought in by humans, and the emerald ash borer will be brought in by humans," she says. "We spread the diseases around."
"At this point, the emerald ash borer will be much worse than the threat of Dutch elm disease," says Domke, who now works as division manager of the city’s parks and open space division. "At least with DED we have controls we can use," he says. In fact, the City of Toronto, rather than fighting the bug, decided this year to start culling its entire 860,000-strong ash population, replacing them with other species at an estimated cost of $68 million. As the Toronto city website explains: "Thus far, infestations elsewhere in North America have increased and spread despite significant control measures attempted. Once established, EAB has proven impossible to control." The Canada Food Inspection Agency twice a year monitors bright green traps they’ve set up in selected Winnipeg ash trees. At last check in late July, the bug hadn’t appeared.
Yet, while we wait for the borer, the forestry branch continues to plant varieties of the ash species, as it still plants varieties of elm. "We are trying to replant with other species to alleviate the mistake of monoculture," says Barwinsky, "but there are very few trees available to grow in our climate." For example, the other category of trees can include delta hackberry, bur oak and Ohio buckeye, but the selection varies each year, depending on tree availability at nurseries. With confidence that seems based on faith, Barwinsky wants to avoid an ash cull here and looks to our remaining elms as a hopeful example for the ash population. "We’re going to learn a lot from others who got the borer first," she says, "the way it happened with Dutch elm disease."
Allen echoes Barwinsky with a list of trees tried here that are failed or failing. The Swedish aspen? It gets bronze leaf disease. Schubert choke cherry? Once on the list of potential other trees, many of them are dying from black knot disease, which looks like burned marshmallow wrapped around the branches. Native oaks feel urban stresses harder than most trees, often falling prey to the two-line chestnut borer. Weeping birches get killed by the bronze birch borer, and Allen also recently noticed the dying of green ash, succumbing to a disease called ash anthracnose. "The trees live complicated lives," he says. "It’s dynamic, changing every day in some form or another."
Efforts to discover a greater selection of Prairie-ready shade trees are scarce, according to tree developer Rick Durand. He says once-promising work at Agriculture and Agri-food Canada Morden Research Station has decreased gradually over the past five years or so, until the station ceased its last "woody ornamentals" program this spring. Now, Durand is among a group of Prairie tree nurseries and developers aiming to produce a longer list of trees for us to plant.
The Prairie TRUST project, started by the Western Nursery Growers’ Group, has 750 trees comprising 150 varieties, planted at four nurseries in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. The trial, which started in 2008, needed particular varieties of two-year-old trees, not all available on a yearly basis from developers, so the group spread their schedule out, planting the last trees this year. Many of the test subjects in this five-year program will grow to be seven years old, tested along the way for size, disease and insect habitation. Severe winter damage already took a maple cultivar called Autumn Fantasy out of the trial, but Durand sees promising results so far in other cultivars of maple, along with a few tree lilacs and lindens.
The project’s website says trees found acceptable at the end of the trials will be labelled "Prairie tested," which represents "a tree that has shown to be Prairie hardy and has high resistance to insects, disease and environmental factors." Durand admits, though, resistance at seven years old doesn’t mean resistance at 35. "Our main focus is on hardiness," he says. Barwinsky, already wary of resistance claims, says she’s glad just for the chance to find a wider variety of trees to plant. "We need them out there for 20 years or so, before we can trust any claim of disease resistance," she says, adding most trees exhibit natural "juvenile resistance" to disease for about 20 years.
Even without the constant threat of Dutch elm disease and the coming threat of the emerald ash borer, our trees suffer daily. The urban environment gives them compacted roadbeds to restrict their root growth, while pollution and heat reflected off buildings and roads test their resilience more than a natural setting could. In winter and spring, de-icing salt splashed from sloppy roads kills branches, resulting in a "witch’s broom" effect. The city currently plans only limited replanting of boulevard trees along busy regional streets, such as Pembina Highway and Grant Avenue.
"We will not replant trees on regional streets under their current condition," says Barwinsky. Instead, trees removed from boulevards of busy feeder routes will only be replaced "under conditions we’ve outlined in the forestry department’s guidelines." Those conditions include necessary space for the tree to avoid salt spray and to enjoy adequate soil volume. The guidelines also suggest the use of technologies such as the Silva Cells system and tree vaults for trees in stressful and crowded places.
Silva cells (in use along Broadway, as well as along King Street by Old Market Square) make a framework under sidewalks and roads that supports concrete and asphalt, while allowing tree roots to spread more naturally and helping to control storm water runoff; tree vaults (in use by trees on the Main Street centre median near Pantages theatre) are essentially giant plant holders that can be raised above grade if necessary. Barwinsky says these "enhanced planting sites" seem to be doing well. Though the city has none on hand for current use, Barwinsky says engineers in the public works department know about them as an option to write into the budget of any road or sidewalk rehabilitation projects coming up.
Asked for three wishes for the forestry department, Barwinsky gives one. Her department has a set of principles and guidelines, but she wants an urban forest management plan for the city. Banff, Kingston, Vancouver and Toronto are among the places with plans for their trees that set definite goals, instead of suggesting them. A plan for Winnipeg would likely set marks for pruning and replanting and of course it would address treatment of diseases and where they are planted. But it might also include rules about tree protection on private property and soil quality in new housing developments (something that especially bothers her). To that end, the department began collecting data for a tree inventory, including counts of the trees in parks and on boulevards, reports on their condition and a list of potential spaces for new trees. Barwinsky plans on it being completed next year.
"You have to think of trees as infrastructure," says Barwinsky, "and as infrastructure, they’re the only one that actually accrues value with time." The older roads and utility lines get, the weaker they become. But for every year trees grow bigger, they take out more pollutants from the air and absorb more heat. All along, they help us keep an essential connection to life beyond the hardness of the city. A University of Illinois study of a Chicago housing project showed apartment blocks surrounded by trees had fewer reports of violence than blocks on barren lots.
Barwinsky notes, too, the biggest trees in the city all got big under less stress than they face now. And, reluctantly, she concedes it’s entirely possible our urban forest 50 years from now will be much thinner and shorter. Winnipeggers will live in a city that is even hotter, windier and less pleasant to look at. Let’s face it, this place would be dreadful without them. They need our attention and care and a proper gauge of their worth, in terms of money and spirit. Barwinsky admits "but the potential is there if we find the best ones to plant and treat them in the best way we can."
City forester, Martha Barwinsky, examines a cottonwood tree in Mcbeth Park.
The greatest trees
In late July, Martha Barwinsky and city naturalist Rodney Penner went to McBeth Park to inspect a cottonwood that would remind anyone of how awesome a tree can be. About 150 years old, it stands 27 metres tall and has a tree hollow at the base big enough to stand in. Long ago, some physiological stress caused a small cavern on the then-smaller tree that persisted and grew into this. Barwinsky and Penner say they try to see the tree once a year or so just to make sure it’s still standing. The cavern makes it less strong than its scattered neighbors, tall and short, in this river bottom forest.
The cavern also makes the tree popular with some number of tree-hating partiers with lighters. Burn marks line the inside the cavern, and outside the charring continues up stretches of heartwood, left exposed by flames from fires set inside the tree. Barwinsky notices new cracks in the trunk, filled in with callous as the tree tries in vain to repair itself.
"This is one of the greatest trees in the city," says Penner, explaining the path running by it is a recent addition from a nearby suburb, put there in the hope of deterring firebugs. "I hope people don’t set it on fire anymore," he adds, as Barwinsky points out the expected failure points.
"It’ll buckle up there and crack down around here. And it will take those with it," she says, waving at about half a dozen smaller but impressive trees nearby. "We may never see trees of this size in Winnipeg again."
With hope at least someone might see trees this big again, Penner has about 20 cuttings, from this and other cottonwoods around the park, at the city nursery and is trying to root them. "We wanted to try it out, to see if we can get them going," says Penner, smiling at the old cottonwood. "This is such a great example of a river bottom forest tree. If it works out, maybe people will see these in parks. Some of the cuttings have taken root, and we want to take more while we can."
No more remediation for sick elms
Until mid-July this year the forestry branch allowed some Dutch elm disease-infected trees on private property to go on a remedial therapy list. Entry on the list gave a tree’s owner a year to to try and save a tree by pruning infected branches or injecting fungicides to halt the disease. Martha Barwinsky says the efforts have saved trees but not often enough and not soon enough. "We won’t approve remedial therapy any longer," she says. "For the past three years, it has only been 60 to 80 per cent effective, but even at 80 per cent effective, it’s too much risk because the tree spreads infection while it’s being treated."
A bucket truck and Hydro clearance may be needed when removing a tree. (BRYAN SCHLOSSER / POSTMEDIA NEWS)
The tree removal process
Martha Barwinsky says removal time varies, depending on the tree. A younger tree on a boulevard is easy, compared to an old backyard tree, tall and hanging over a garage or with branches threaded through overhead wires. Hydro clearance may be needed, along with climbing and rigging among the canopy. "Sometimes we can remove 10 trees in a day and other times it might take three days to remove one tree."
Big gear for a typical removal includes a bucket truck to lift a technician up to canopy level, a wood chipper for the branches coming off and a loader to put bigger tree pieces in the back of a pickup. From the raised bucket, a technician pares the branches down to leave the main trunk remaining. The bare tall pedestal is then dropped with a cut through the base. A big enough tree will shake the sidewalks and the road nearby when it hits the ground.
Stump removal comes next, with workers grinding the stump to about six inches below ground level. Homeowners have the option to pay to have the stump removed further, in order to plant a tree in the same place. Otherwise, a city crew finishes up by filling the hole with soil and laying grass seed.
The enduring power of trees
Sarah Hampson From Saturday's Globe and Mail
More related to this story
The forest was our childhood Las Vegas: What happened there, stayed there.
Part of a family of five children, my two older siblings and I were a threesome separated by several years from the younger two. During the summer, no matter where we happened to be on holiday, our parents often dispatched the Original Three, as we later came to call ourselves, into the woods. “Vamoose, have fun, don't bother us until lunch or suppertime,” came their directive.
We had to occupy ourselves, and so off we would go to build another GeSaraDa – the name, a compilation of our given ones, for the forts we liked to build with sticks, broken branches and logs, layered and mud-packed into place, leaning against a tree trunk to provide a damp, earthy home.
Entering a forest is “almost like leaving land to go into water, another medium, another dimension,” John Fowles wrote in his meditation on nature and creativity, The Tree. “When I was younger, this sensation was acute. Slinking into trees was always slinking into heaven.”
And so it was for us. You could do anything in there, have your own rules like Robin Hood, think anything – imagine enemies in the trees or fairies, believe that you were a lost family Robinson or that your brother was a hunter and you Pocahontas, able to communicate with animals and hear whispery voices of trees in the swish of their branches.
It's no wonder J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis situated their fantastical children's fictions in forests, a place, like the inside of a creative mind, that's secret, overgrown and interlaced with vines of this and branches of that, thrumming.
As a retreat, a forest is a cocoon. You can lose yourself yet feel safe. Sheltered on the soft floor of a lush, green enclosure that towers high into the air, you're not exposed as you are in other landscapes, a desert or mountains or water.
And with the presence of trees, standing there, straight and tall, their arms outstretched, you don't feel alone in the way those other places can make you feel. They're loyal guardians. Hours would slip by unnoticed when my siblings and I disappeared into a forest. Then, at the end of our day, we would emerge, calmly prepared to once again take our place at the table of the adult world of manners, expectations, duties, rules.
Now, let me make a little clearing here in the woods of my words. I like high heels, okay? I don't wear hemp. I resist ponytails. I would never ride a bike in the deep downtown no matter what the carbon-footprint police say. Too dangerous. Besides, I need to be in a car bubble, air-conditioned, with music, floating down the avenues, untouched by the throng. I have never hugged a tree in my life.
I make that little clarification because even a philosophical love of trees can feel earnest and New Agey, not the sort of conversational fodder for the cool, ironic denizens of urban centres, which is where more than 80 per cent of Canadians now live.
While the variety and abundance of trees help to form the identity of a place – the cedars of Lebanon are featured on that country's flag, Florida would not be Florida without its iconic palm trees, and Canada is the land of the boreal, the last intact forest on the planet – we are disconnected from them.
Tree people (as those who love them like to call themselves) don't tend to broadcast their interest. They keep it to themselves, secretive as the forest itself, communicating it only among themselves, like collectors of esoteric art or cultish members of a lost Druidic tribe.
(see the rest of the story at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/summer/the-enduring-power-of-trees/article2128438/)
Everyone's got pawpaw fever
A mix of guava and banana, this coveted fruit is, oddly, native to Ontario’s Carolinian forest
Sarah Elton on Monday, November 2, 2009 11:30am
From the outside, the pawpaw is a humble fruit. Its skin, a lacklustre chartreuse, bruises easily, and it resembles an unripe, banged-up mango more than anything else. But take a bite of its creamy, soft flesh and it is absolute heaven. The tropical flavours of banana and guava mixed with a touch of persimmon spread across your tongue. It’s hard to believe this exotic fruit is indigenous to Ontario’s Carolinian forest; it’s so rare few Canadians even know of its existence. But in the past few years, the pawpaw has gone from almost extinct to yearned-for local delicacy. With a revival under way, foodies are clamouring for a taste.
Most people eat the pawpaw raw—like a papaya, which is sometimes called a pawpaw even though it’s a different fruit. They peel the skin, then cut the fruit in half, removing the shiny, brown, fava-bean-like seeds and slicing the flesh. When I tasted my first pawpaws last year, I never made it to the table to eat them because I’d devoured the entire fruit before I could sit down. Mark Picone, professor of the Niagara Culinary Institute, who has been eating pawpaws for years and thus has more patience, has concocted desserts like pawpaw pastry cream, pawpaw tart with a spelt crust, steamed pawpaw pudding with screech ice cream (yes, that screech—Newfoundland’s dark rum), and butter tart with pawpaw. “It’s an incredible emulsifier. It really brings flavours together,” he says.
Though try to get your hands on a Canadian pawpaw this season. Forbes Wild Foods, a Toronto-based wild foods procurer that has sold pawpaws to the public for the past few years, has a waiting list for this year’s ripening fruit. Chefs are searching for them, too. The local-foods supply company 100 km Foods Inc. sources just enough to sell to an exclusive list of restaurants. “We can only mention them to a minimal number of people,” says owner Grace Mandarano. “Because if we told everyone, they would all want them.”
It’s a straightforward case of demand overshadowing supply. The wild pawpaw is indigenous to a long swath of continent, stretching from Nebraska to Florida and up to Ontario—Native Americans harvested the fruit and later introduced them to the Europeans. But in Canada the tree is elusive. Though it’s lived quietly in the understorey of the Carolinian forest at least since the last ice age, surviving on the shores of lakes Erie and Ontario, in recent decades urbanization has threatened its habitat. (The species is more common in southerly states. In Kentucky, according to Kirk Pomper, a horticulturalist at Kentucky State University, trees grow at the side of the road and in backyards, and you can find the fruit for sale at some farmers’ markets.)
Somewhere in history, the pawpaw disappeared from Canadians’ consciousness, too. My grandmother, who grew up in the 1920s in pawpaw country, had never heard of the fruit until I told her about it the other day. These days, the cultivated cousin of the wild pawpaw is feeding the revival. Linda Grimo and her dad Ernie, who run a fruit and nut farm in Niagara-on-the-Lake as well as a nursery, sell more than 600 trees a year to hobbyists and farmers. They also sell the fruit from their mature trees, but only if you promise to return the genetic material intact—unlike an apple tree, the seeds from a sweet-tasting fruit will grow into trees that produce the same. So the lucky chefs who buy the Grimos’ fruit save the seeds and send them back.
Already demand has raised the possibility of a commercial industry in Ontario. When a local fruit grower lost her contract with Del Monte, Linda Grimo told her that pawpaws were the future. And Torrie Warner, who cultivates 60 acres of peaches, pears and quinces in the Niagara region, has already followed Grimo’s advice; when the local fruit-canning plant and grape-juicing facility both shut down, he replaced some of his pear trees with pawpaws. He plans to sell to the public in four years.
In pawpaw season the Grimos eat as many as they can. “We have them for breakfast, we have them for lunch, we have them for dinner,” says Ernie. If they get their wish, many others will soon be gorging on them. Paul De Campo, leader of Slow Food Toronto, who has a fruit-producing pawpaw tree in his front yard, wants the pawpaw listed as a Canadian heritage food on the Slow Food “Ark of Taste,” which would further publicize it. But it all hinges on farmers, says Grimo. “That’s what it is going to take—more people putting in this crop. Then it will be easily accessible to everybody. Hopefully one day it will be in the grocery store.”
The Significant Role of Forests in Regulating Global Climate
A new study published in the journal, Science, has quantified the forests' role in regulating carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere. Because plants absorb CO2 as part of their metabolism, the greater the forest, the more CO2 is removed, and the impact of global climate change is decreased. The study found that the world's established forests remove 8.8 billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere per year. This equates to nearly one third of all annual fossil fuel emissions from humans.
Forests are areas with a high density of trees which hold a diverse ecosystem. They cover about 30 percent of all land area on Earth. Before the spread of agriculture and human development, they covered up to 50 percent of the land. Much of the woodland is found in a tropical band around the equator, and in the northern latitudes. Because the trees go dormant during winter in the north, their CO2 consumption lessens, creating a yearly wave-like pattern. The study took this into account when measuring total tons of CO2 removed.
In the tropics, where plant life is most abundant, changes to the forest have a dramatic effect. The regrowth of trees on previously deforested land consumed six billion tons of CO2 per year between 1990 and 2007. However, the deforestation in the tropics released an astounding 10.8 billion tons per year, significantly contributing to the rise of CO2 levels in the atmosphere. By way of comparison, annual fossil fuel emissions from human sources are roughly 28 billion tons per year of CO2.
The study puts a new emphasis on the role of forests in addressing global climate change. "Humans are altering the world's forests in a number of ways, from their outright destruction to the much more subtle impacts on even the most remote forests caused by global changes to the environment," said Dr. Simon Lewis, co-author of the study and tropical ecologist from the University of Leeds.
"Our research shows these changes are having globally important impacts, which highlights the critical role forests play in the global cycling of carbon and therefore the speed and severity of future climate change. The practical importance of this new information is that if schemes to reduce deforestation are successful they would have significant positive global impacts, as would similar efforts promoting forest restoration."
The researchers, led by Dr. Yude Pan of the US Forest Service, found that worldwide, forests provided a net benefit of 4 billion tons of CO2 absorption. This is after factoring in the amount of CO2 released from deforested areas. They also found that forests alone are not the only ecosystems which absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. Also, farmland, grassland, deserts, and tundra each play a role, but much less so than the forests, and even more less than the tropical forests.
"We know the tropics are the most dynamic area of the world when considering the exchange of carbon between the land and atmosphere," said Oliver Philips, co-author and professor of tropical ecology at the University of Leeds. "Trees grow fast in the tropics, and widespread deforestation is the norm, yet our collective research effort is smaller in the tropics than elsewhere. What we need is serious investment in monitoring the world's tropical forests to better understand their role in our rapidly changing global environment."
Chantaie Allick From Monday's Globe and Mail
Published Sunday, Jul. 31, 2011 7:43PM EDT
Gnarled, knobby and wrinkled, heritage trees stand sentry over the city’s history. Some are older than the country itself. Many have lived through events that only occupy our distant collective memory.
There is a tree in the northeast segment of Queen’s Park with a huge branch that juts out as if it’s making a fist and about to flex its bicep. It is knotted and notched with holes. Fungus is growing in the crevices between its trunk and its appendages. A large hollow in its base is home to local wildlife. Yet the tree stands erect in its old age.
This “granddaddy tree” has as much if not more value than some of the younger, more aesthetically pleasing trees in the park, says Philip van Wassenaer, an expert with Urban Forest Innovations. They are as vital a part of the city’s heritage as the Queen’s Park Building or Royal Ontario Museum.
Yet some arborists, or tree experts, know very little about how to maintain these aging sentinels, says Mr. van Wassenaer, who can often be found examining the rough bark of trees with his hands, an old backpack resting in the dirt nearby.
Just because a tree is ugly, doesn’t mean it isn’t healthy and some arborists are too quick to cut down an older tree because it has blemishes that speak to its age. The older trees add to the diversity and ecology of the city’s urban landscape, Mr. van Wassenaer says. Researchers in Britain have discovered rare organisms that are only able to survive in these older trees.
But Toronto’s urban forests, the smattering of ravines and groves of trees that add green to the city’s landscape of grey concrete, face a number of challenges, including demand for root space, disease, and climate change, which became most evident in this summer’s extreme heat.
Janet McKay, the executive director of LEAF (Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests), issued a news release pleading for Torontonians to help urban trees weather the heat by watering them.
“Often by the time the effects of drought become noticeable, it’s too late,” writes Ms. McKay.
It is best to water in the early morning or evening and to use a low-flow hose to ensure water soaks into the soil rather than running off onto the pavement.
It’s an effort that Ms. McKay says is well worth it because on particularly hot days, trees provide important relief – not just by providing shade – but improving air quality by trapping pollutants and aiding in storm-water absorption.
Evapotranspiration, the evaporation of water absorbed through tree roots and released through the leaves, creates a natural cooling effect, says Ms. McKay. “Trees can have an effect in terms of helping us live with the effects of climate change.”
Younger trees are more at risk in extreme weather conditions.
“A lot of those recently planted trees either this year or the last couple years, they’re just frying right now,” says Mr. van Wassenaer.
They have a limited root system and without supplemental water supply from rain or watering, they just can’t make it, he says. Larger, older trees have vast root systems drawing moisture from a larger area.
In extreme heat conditions, trees begin to shut down in order to survive. Their canopies wilt, branches may die off and leaves shrivel.
“I have seen many young trees crisped in the last few weeks,” says Mr. van Wassenaer.
These conditions can have long-term impacts. “Those newly planted trees are supposed to be our future urban forest,” he says. If they die before reaching maturity, Toronto’s streets and parks will be significantly less green over time, but it’s hard to measure the number of trees that will die, he says.
As well, the city of Toronto recently announced it would have to remove most of the ash trees because of an unstoppable infestation of the emerald ash borer. The city stands to lose an estimated 8 per cent of its canopy because of the insect.
And as the city grows, pavement encroaches on the soil where the root systems of trees collect and store nutrients that help them reach those epic age numbers. The city’s recently introduced new sidewalk system, which allows for the roots of trees to grow underneath, may help.
The only reason the older trees like the three outside St. James Cathedral have survived is because they were on land owned by the church long before there was a Toronto or a Canada, says Bruce Bell, a Toronto historian.
“Everything else has been torn down to build,” he explains.
The grand old oak that sits outside the old entrance to the Royal Ontario Museum was protected during the building’s recent renovation and now has enough root space in the large expanse of grass at its base to spread out and thrive. The oak near the steps of St. James Cathedral in the eastern part of the downtown core survived the great fire of 1849.
“I bet when you chop that tree down you might find a ring that’s all black,” says Mr. Bell.
According to an old English saying, a tree grows for 300 years, thrives for another 300 and then expires gracefully for another 300. In Toronto we have trees around 200 years of age that are in the process of gracefully expiring, and will do so for another 100 if treated well, says Mr. van Wassenaer.
Centre Wellington’s Great Heritage Tree Hunt offers fun and prizes
CENTRE WELLINGTON -
NeighbourWoods wants to find and celebrate some of the township’s biggest and most storied trees, so it has launched the Great Heritage Tree Hunt.
There are three categories – tallest, biggest around, and the best heritage story.
It takes just a few minutes to fill out a ballot for one of three prizes: a hundred-dollar dinner for two at the recently restored Cambridge Mill on the Grand River (sister property to our Elora Mill), a GRCA gift pack, which includes a vehicle pass welcoming the owner into any GRCA park in 2012, and a one-hundred-dollar gift certificate at Roxanne’s Reflections Book and Card Shop, in downtown Fergus.
Entry forms include simple instructions on how to measure the tree and are available at community libraries, Roxanne’s Bookshop, Santé Natural Food Emporium in Elora, Fountain Head Health Food Store in Fergus, or by download from the Elora Environment Centre’s website at www.eloraenvironmentcentre. ca.
Contest coordinator Kris Rocci pointed out that entering the best story category may take a little more time, “but it gives you a chance to practice your creative writing skills.”
Rocci said, “The judges from Heritage Centre Wellington will be looking for interesting, historical anecdotes. One glorious sugar maple, for example, is loved because its branches have welcomed climbing children for three generations of a farming family.”
Many thanks to the prize sponsors and Heritage Centre Wellington judges.
Contest closes Aug. 31 and winners will be announced and prizes awarded by Centre Wellington mayor Joanne Ross-Zuj on Sept. 12.
People can enter as many trees as they wish, but must use a separate ballot for each entry.
For more information, contact Rocci at NeighbourWoods at 519-846-0841 or by email at email@example.com.
July 22, 2011
Why an eccentric band of tree lovers is cloning an ancient forest
Sarah Hampson From Saturday's Globe and Mail
“God rays,” says one, pointing a finger.
“The light is so soft – and buttery,” says another.
“And with the mist” – an intake of breath – “amazing.”
“If you want to talk to the Creator, this would be a good spot,” someone whispers.
On a sunny California afternoon, fog rolls off the Pacific Ocean through a forest of old-growth coastal redwoods like dry ice wafting across a stage on cue. Massive, fluted columns rise into the sky, a natural Greek temple of wood in a setting so otherworldly that scenes from Return of the Jedi and Jurassic Park have been filmed here. A veil of white mist diffuses the light, rays of which pierce the damp, dim forest; long, pointy fingers from above.
A colourful cast of Shakespeare-esque characters from a play that could be called A Midsummer Day's Dream has gathered in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, 64 kilometres south of the Oregon boundary, to take in the iconic grandeur of some of the tallest, oldest living organisms on the planet.
There's David Milarch, a large man of 62 hard years, the unconventional Oberon of the group, white-haired and gristly, chain-smoking and cursing. A self-confessed “wild soul” with a youth spent in motorcycle gangs, he now has a grand vision to clone 100 of the world's oldest, most iconic trees, not just to preserve them for sentimental reasons, but with the hope that saving their genes will be useful in the face of climate change. “I'm doing this for the world's grandchildren,” says the co-founder of Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, a not-for-profit organization based in Michigan...(see the rest of the article at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/why-an-eccentric-band-of-tree-lovers-is-cloning-an-ancient-forest/article2135850/ )
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