July 17th, 2009
11:16 PM ET

What trees give us – and how we can give back

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/07/17/art.chuckleavellwithtrees.jpg caption="In addition to being the keyboardist for the Rolling Stones for the last 27 years, Chuck Leavell writes that he is 'passionate about what trees and forests do for us.'"]
Chuck Leavell
Environmentalist, Author and Musician

In an age where we often hear about the alarming worldwide effects of climate change, global warming, and greenhouse gases, it is easy to forget that some solutions lie within our grasp.

Trees, particularly in urban areas, provide numerous benefits. They improve air and water quality, conserve water and reduce storm runoff, help reduce heat caused by buildings and pavement, and absorb carbon. It is up to us to ensure these trees are providing the maximum benefit and that we do our part to keep them healthy.

That's where research comes in. On July 19, America's largest fundraiser for tree research, the STIHL Tour des Trees, will kick off from New York City. Cyclists from across the world gather each year to travel more than 500 miles across different routes through the United States to benefit the Tree Research and Education Endowment (TREE) Fund and to raise awareness for the need for research to keep urban trees and forests healthy.

I am passionate about what trees and forests do for us. My wife, Rose Lane, and I are tree farmers in Georgia, carrying on a tradition of good stewardship of the land that her grandparents passed down to us and that was begun by earlier generations of the family more than 100 years ago. We do our best to care for the land in a responsible way, to set an example for our two daughters and two grandsons about caring for the earth.

In 1999, the American Tree Farm System selected us as the National Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year. That was a great honor, and we began wondering what more we could do. I became more involved with national conservation efforts, working with local governments and Congress to educate our lawmakers on environmental issues like sustainable forestry and biodiversity.

Trees and wood are the most wonderful natural resource we have. Our forests give us materials to make our homes, our schools, our churches, materials to make books, magazines, newspapers. I wouldn't have a piano to play if it weren't for the resource of wood, nor would my pal Keith Richards have his guitars or Charlie Watts have his drums. Trees are natural, organic, and most importantly, they are renewable.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/US/07/06/newyork.wallet.cherry.tree/art.central.park.file.gi.jpg caption="According to Leavell, 'trees, particularly in urban areas, provide numerous benefits' such as improving air and water quality."]

Many people say, "Well, we should save all the trees and build our things out of plastic or aluminum.” What they don’t consider is how much more pollution it causes to make those things. Plastic and aluminum don’t grow naturally, and they don’t grow back.

Across the country, tree farmers like me plant millions of additional trees, but it's imperative that we as a nation care for the ones we have, too. A January study led by the United States Geological Survey found that in the past few decades, tree death rates in the western U.S. have more than doubled – even in forests considered to be healthy.

Supporting organizations like the TREE Fund and the American Tree Farm System that enable education and research into the health of our nation's trees is more important now than ever before. We need to learn everything we can about our nation’s most valuable resource in order to save them for future generations.

I try to live by an old Haida Indian expression: "We don't inherit the land from our parents, we borrow it from our children." The beauty of sustainable forestry is that it is not just about doing something good today. The positive effects may not even be seen for many years to come. But for our children and our grandchildren, the work done by the cyclists this week on the STIHL Tour des Trees to benefit the TREE Fund's research will affect generations of trees, and people, for many years to come.

For more information on the STIHL Tour des Trees, please visit www.stihltourdestrees.org.

Editor’s Note: Chuck Leavell is an environmentalist and author who has also spent 27 years anchoring the Rolling Stones on keyboards. He has performed with everyone from the Allman Brothers Band to Aretha Franklin to Alanis Morissette. Chuck and his wife Rose Lane are among the 10 million private citizens who own and manage the largest single chunk of U.S. forestland and keep our forests thriving. He is a board member of the U.S. Endowment for Forest Communities and recently co-founded the earth-first Web site Mother Nature Network, MNN (www.mnn.com), the everyman's eco-guide to environmental news and information.

soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Mari

    Just got home from visiting one of our nation's most beautiful places, Glacier National Park (Montana). There is a gentle hike, called the Trail of Cedars, this forest of cedars, birch, western hemlock is ancient. Walking the trail we were all in awe of God's creation! We need these trees and others to ........ live, without them we would die.

    I am always saddened and troubled that the far-right-folks who continue to make jokes about Global Warming & continue to spread the lie that it doesn't exist are actually Christians! How can anyone love God and not want to protect His Creation?

    July 20, 2009 at 2:24 pm |
  2. Annie Kate

    Thousands upon thousands of trees are destroyed on a regular basis in Appalachia along with the mountains these trees lived on. Its done for coal and it not only destroys the trees, releases the CO2 they are holding, they blow the mountain top off and shove the debris, etc. into a valley and create a sludge pond like the one that burst in Tennessee in December with the coal ash in Kingston. The Appalachian part is to get the coal out of the ground; Kingston was the end of the line: putting the coal into energy and releasing the coal ash into retaining pools and polluted air into the atmosphere. I wonder if we can ever plant enough trees to replace what is being torn down.

    July 17, 2009 at 8:05 pm |
  3. Donna Wood, Lil' Tennessee

    Yes, but not just our trees! There's a lot of plant life that gives us the same benefits. We need to stop being destroyers and start planting and crowing. O-O-OPS! I mean growing! And stop 'crowing'. That would work too, huh?

    Donna Wood
    Lexington, Tennessee

    July 17, 2009 at 6:57 pm |
  4. Ron

    Glad to see more awareness on trees! I am a horticulturist and know how important trees are and what they can do. Let's all plant more!!

    July 17, 2009 at 6:47 pm |
  5. Fatima Prioleau

    I make sure to plant a tree on arbor at schools that allow it. The students love planting and taking care of the trees.

    July 17, 2009 at 6:36 pm |
  6. Darin

    It's really nice to see that there are still people out there who care about our planet. Teaching others to carry on your passion for the environment is wonderful, and I wish you all the best. Thanks for all your efforts!

    July 17, 2009 at 6:20 pm |
  7. Sabrina in Las Vegas

    This was wonderful.

    Bamboo is natural and quick growing as well and doesn't take 500 to 1000 to degrade or caus3 alzheimer's when used.

    Trees warm in winter,, cool in summer and clean the world so well as noted.

    Leaning against one can improve your health.

    July 17, 2009 at 5:33 pm |
  8. Sonia

    I am in love with Muir Woods and if you haven't been their to visit, you must go – if you are a True Tree Lover. This is brilliant project, thanks for all you do, I will be following, wishing you the best on the Tour.
    Houston, TX

    July 17, 2009 at 4:59 pm |
  9. Shilpee Shrestha, Austin TX

    Yes, it is a very crucial matter, not only for this nation but for every nations in the World.

    July 17, 2009 at 4:53 pm |
  10. Amanda

    It's nice to read about someone who is committed to caring for the earth and sets such a great example for our school children. We recently partnered with American Forests to plant 1,000 trees in honor of Eisenhower Elementary School in Pittsburgh, Pa. It was amazing to find out what a difference these trees will make. According to the International Society of Arboriculture, one tree produces nearly 260 pounds of oxygen a year, so our 1,000 trees will produce nearly 260,000 pounds of oxygen each year!

    On behalf of the Elmer's Glue Crew Recycling Program

    July 17, 2009 at 4:46 pm |
  11. Beverly

    trees are the best "air conditioners"!

    July 17, 2009 at 3:36 pm |
  12. Tod Flores

    Help Galveston,Tx!!

    July 17, 2009 at 3:26 pm |
  13. Zoe

    Thanks for raising consciousness to our environment with this blog...A lot of confusion lurks with basic apathy. Z

    July 17, 2009 at 3:03 pm |
  14. charmichael

    I'm no enviromentalist...but I worship trees.
    Glad to see some out there passionate about planting and growing trees.

    July 17, 2009 at 2:59 pm |
  15. Amina

    I think that it is sweet that u putting up a fundraiser.

    July 17, 2009 at 2:48 pm |
  16. karen

    give it more CO2 to breath.

    July 17, 2009 at 2:31 pm |