February 19, 2012

Virginia had record warm weather during last 12 months

In case you missed the monthly weather analysis by NOAA, or failed to notice our mild winter so far:

The 12-month period, ending in January, was the sixth warmest such period for the contiguous United States, with warmer-than-average temperatures dominating the eastern two-thirds of the nation. Seven states -- Delaware, New Jersey, North Carolina, Maryland, Rhode Island, Texas, and Virginia -- were record warm for the period, while an additional 18 states had 12-month temperatures ranking among their ten warmest. Oregon and Washington were the only states with below-average temperatures during the period.

Spring doesn’t officially arrive until March 20, but you wouldn’t think so in Virginia as the La Nina weather pattern continues, blocking the colder air masses from the north. Our mildest winter in recent memory means some trees are already budding and insects are surviving. You might want to apply that pre-emergent for crabgrass sooner than usual. Do not wait for the forsythia to bloom.

According to the National Weather Service, the average January temperature in our area was almost 7 degrees above normal. February may be similar.

February 9, 2012

The LORAX returns after 40 years


“I am the Lorax! I speak for the trees,

Which you seem to be chopping as fast as you please.”

Skimpy buffers of trees surround the newest shopping meccas in our area. Aggressive clear cutting continues and our planet’s rainforests are still disappearing at an alarming rate.

So it is appropriate that the movie industry will reintroduce us to The Lorax on March 2, Dr. Seuss’ birthday—this time in 3D. Seuss published his cautionary tale of corporate greed and environmental destruction in 1971 and it remains a worthy introduction to environmental awareness for children.

In this much hyped movie version, Seuss’ grumpy but endearing fictional character will now “speak for the trees” using Danny DeVito’s voice, trying to save truffula trees from disappearing by giving the last truffula seed to a worried little boy. Such responsibility on small shoulders!

Negative hype too — The book was accused of being unfair to the logging industry when it was first released. That industry is alive and well in Virginia, so I assume critics were many.

Now Universal Studios is getting support for its latest movie from companies that want to latch onto the Lorax’s environmental friendly message. They have nearly 70 “launch partners,” including the EPA, Whole Foods Market and Seventh Generation, some of whose customers are not happy with that company’s decision to plaster the Lorax on their diaper packaging.

Hilton's DoubleTree hotel chain is sponsoring a trip for four to eco-tourism mecca Costa Rica. Read Across America will encourage teachers across the country to read the Lorax book to children on the film's opening date. IHOP will serve Seussian breakfast of green-colored eggs and ham, as well as distribute seeds for planting.

Why plant trees? Realtors tell us that healthy, mature trees add 10 to 20 percent to your home’s value. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that the net cooling effect of a young, healthy tree is equivalent to ten room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day. If you plant a tree today on the west side of your home, in 5 years your energy bills should be 3 percent less. In 15 years, the savings will be nearly 12 percent.

One acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide, puts out four tons of oxygen and improves water quality by reducing erosion and the chemicals and sediment draining into our watershed.

One Texas A&M study found that visual exposure to trees produce significant recovery from stress within five minutes, as indicated by changes in blood pressure and muscle tension. But these blasted clearcut shopping centers elevate my blood pressure.

I have never actually hugged a tree, but my love for trees began many decades ago during my tree climbing years. It jumped quite a few notches in 2003 during Hurricane Isabel as we watched a mighty oak in our backyard slowly topple over. Shortly thereafter a dozen huge pines joined the now horizontal woods. And our re-forestry efforts in James City County began.

Wetland restoration — Is a billion-dollar-a-year industry in the United States in which land developers aim to mitigate the loss of trees and filled in wetlands by creating ecosystems similar to those they destroyed. But a new analysis of restoration projects shows that restored wetlands seldom reach the quality of a natural wetland and may never recover. Even after 100 years, restored wetlands are still different from what was there before.

Also, wetlands accumulate a lot of carbon. Restored wetlands contain about 23 percent less carbon than untouched wetlands. So drying up a wetland for farming or new homes is like pouring carbon into the atmosphere.

What can you do? Do not wait until April 27, 2012 to celebrate Arbor Day and think about the value of trees. Get in the Arbor Day spirit early by planting a few new trees in your yard—on the west or south side if you want to reduce the workload on your air conditioner. Learn about native trees that are suitable for our hardiness zone (7B) and less-than-ideal soil at www.arborday.org/treeinfo/zonelookup.cfmt  .

Teachers, get 50 free bare-root evergreen seedlings for your school (one application per school) at http://www.arborday.org/disney  if you apply by April 15 or April 1 if you want to receive them in time for Arbor Day.

Give a tree gift through the Arbor Day Foundation at www.arborday.org/shopping/gifts.cfm .

Kudos — to the 56 cities in Virginia that have earned the official “Tree City” status from the Arbor Day Foundation. One criteria is that the community has a community forestry program supported by an annual budget of at least $2 per capita. Williamsburg is not yet on that list, so I hope that they will pursue it.