Tuesday, August 09, 2011

One Republican’s Object Of Deep Spiritual Significance

A powerful, popular, independent Republican President was on my mind as I started my third cross-country road trip in less than a year, driving up the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and crossing bits of Maryland and West Virginia before cutting across Pennsylvania to carve my way around the Great Lakes.

My route took me near a route of then-desolation in Pennsylvania that Theodore Roosevelt viewed from the train as he made his way from Buffalo to Washington D.C. after the assassination of President McKinley.

A hundred years ago, Roosevelt probably wasn’t aware that settlement and development had by that time eliminated one of every three trees (210 million) from the billion acres of forest that had covered America in the mid-1600s.

Roosevelt also didn’t have access to the economics involved. Today we know that “over the course of 50 years, a single tree can generate $31,250 worth of oxygen, provide $62,000 worth of air pollution control, recycle $37,500 worth of water, and control $31,500 worth of soil erosion” according to the Arbor Day Foundation.

What Roosevelt did have according to his biographer, Edmund Morris was a firm belief, even as a city boy that “trees were objects of deep spiritual significance.” He also viewed conservation as good for business, good for development and in the best interests of the American people.

He bucked his own powerful political party and, as noted at this link, by the end of his term he had “established the United States Forest Service, signed into law the creation of five National Parks, and signed the 1906 Antiquities Act, under which he proclaimed 18 new U.S. National Monuments.

He also established the first 51 Bird Reserves, four Game Preserves, and 150 National Forests, including Shoshone National Forest, the nation's first.

The area of the United States that he placed under public protection totaled approximately 230,000,000 acres.” And yes, he was a Republican.

Today, more than half of the earth’s forests are in Russia, Brazil, Canada, the United States and China. Forests cover less than 1/10th of the earth’s surface and about 30% of its land area. Degrading forests are driving 17% of greenhouse emissions.

America’s tree cover has remained at 747 million acres for the last 100 years. According to the national atlas, this includes 384 million acres in the East and 363 million in the West. In the East, 74% are broadleaf trees, in the West 78% are conifer.

In the East 83% of forest is privately owned but in the West 57% is publicly owned. This may explain why I saw far fewer outdoor billboards in the Midwest and West.

This may also explain why public officials in North Carolina are so slow to protect trees from outdoor billboards, oversimplifying it as a private property issue rather than as a degradation of view-shed and sense—of-place as the general public here overwhelmingly does.

Once heavily forested, North Carolina is now less than 60% tree covered or less than the tree canopy in the City of Durham, the state’s fifth most populous city. North Carolina has also become less forested than either of its two neighboring states, Virginia and South Carolina.

We need more Republicans like Teddy Roosevelt. Especially in North Carolina.

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