Updated: Jul 22
By John McFadden, CEO
In February 2010, I stopped by a friend’s house to pick up my son. As I walked up the stairs, I experienced an overwhelmingly intense pain in my chest. I was freezing and as clammy as a Tennessee mussel. I asked my friend for an aspirin, and he quickly took me to the emergency room. What happened next? I’ll give you a hint: there is a connection to my experience and the benefits of planting trees.
In 2010, at the time of this experience, I was CEO for one of the leading tree planting organizations in Tennessee. During my tenure, we planted nearly 700,000 trees across the state with the help of over 25,000 volunteers. This love of trees started at a young age, and my passion grew as a result of my studies and training in biology, aquatic ecology, and human performance.
Trees have been studied for a long time, and the benefits generally fall into three categories, economic, environmental, and social. Some of the benefits, like the production of oxygen and absorption of carbon dioxide fall into all three categories.
Perhaps the greatest known benefit of trees is the economic impact to our communities from harvesting trees and forests to build our homes, playgrounds and other community assets.
In addition to these benefits, there are economic benefits that result from planting trees in your yard and community. For example, a mature tree in your yard, may increase your property value by as much as 20%. That’s a $40,000 increase for a home valued at $200,000. Add a few more trees and you can cut cooling or heating costs by as much as 25%, saving around $100 to $250 annually.
Of course, those trees also provide beauty and homes for wildlife and other critters. Wildlife, including beloved songbirds, make their home in the trees because they provide shelter and, often, a food source. Oak and other trees produce nuts which are a food source for deer and other animals. Trees are critical for wildlife!
But that’s not all, trees treat your drinking water. In fact, the first legislation creating the United States Forest Service (USFS)was motivated more by protecting drinking water supplies than by having timber to build homes.
Trees also slow and reduce runoff which reduces flooding. This, in turn, can reduce property damage, and the heartache and stress from natural disasters. Less flooding is good for communities and is among the many social benefits of trees.
Communities with more trees have less graffiti, noise and litter. Kids who spend time in communities with more trees have less ADD and more self-discipline. We all need to spend more time outside among the trees, and planting trees is a good way to do that.
In addition to mental health benefits, trees offer a myriad of benefits for our physical health. For example, communities with more trees have fewer cases of childhood asthma and lung disease.
This brings us back to the beginning of my story. When I arrived at the emergency room the doctors found me in full cardiac arrest. I ended up with two stents and a long road to recovery. Yet I was lucky. The ER doctor told my friend, “Good thing he knew to take the aspirin, it saved his life.”
The blood thinning qualities of aspirin allowed the blood to pass thru the 90% blocked artery in my heart and prevented me from going into cardiac arrest until I got to the ER. The aspirin saved my life. So how is this connected to the benefit of trees? Aspirin originally came from the bark of a willow tree, so in 2010 my life was literally saved by a tree.
John McFadden is CEO of Green Interchange. He has led municipalities, organizations, and individuals in forest restoration and environmental education. He’s led thousands of volunteers in stream restoration and reforestation, planting over 700,000 trees. His work has earned many awards including four Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Awards.