OFF THE CUFF

They’re plentiful in Missouri and are all over the place in Houston and Texas County, but it’s safe to say trees are largely taken for granted.

While the beauty of trees and some of their more positive traits are recognized and celebrated to some extent, few of us stop to consider how many very real benefits they provide. It goes way beyond colorful leaves in autumn, shade on a summer day or firewood on a cold winter night – trees affect our daily lives in ways we don’t perceive on the surface.

The Arbor Day Foundation – the leading tree-oriented organization in the U.S. – has compiled extensive information about the benefits of trees, which includes more obvious things like providing oxygen, cleaning the air and our drinking water supply, cooling the air via shade and aiding wildlife. But the foundation also has statistics showing how the presence of trees can lower crime rates, significantly increase property values, save energy and even attract industry, thus making investments in them a good use of public dollars.

Basically, trees – primarily the healthy, well cared for kind – do almost nothing but good.

Missouri Department of Conservation resource forester Travis Mills is not surprisingly a big proponent of trees, and he and his Houston-based crew make a living managing large parcels of them in Texas County. But Mills also understands the value of in-town trees and tree management, and is a big supporter of the practice of proper “urban forestry.”

An idea related to that subject that Mills backs and has unofficially proposed is the launching of a “Tree City USA” effort in Houston and other communities in Texas County. Tree City USA is a program sponsored and overseen by the Arbor Day Foundation that is designed to promote and provide guidelines for wise and proper tree care.

Really, its goal is pretty simple: Help cities to help themselves improve. A lot of cities have gotten on board.

According to Arbor Day Foundation statistics from 2015, there were close to 3,500 Tree City USA communities around the nation, 88 of which were in Missouri (including Mountain View, West Plains and Springfield). Cities in the mix included everything from tiny rural towns with no stoplights to the largest metropolis in the country – New York City.

That’s a lot of participation by a lot of folks who “get it” when it comes to trees.

Tree City USA towns must meet a few basic requirements, beginning with the formation of a “tree board” made up of individuals dedicated to the cause. From there, implementation of the program includes adoption by the city of a basic tree care ordinance (that regulates practices like topping), annual spending on the cause of at least $2 per capita and execution of some sort of annual Arbor Day ceremony or activity.

When you get right down to it, it’s like Mills said: It’s really not all that hard to facilitate or administrate. The mission can realistically be accomplished without much expenditure, and many of the tasks are within (or not far outside) the boundaries of what city workers and citizens already do.

And following Tree City guidelines, those tasks can be done better (or correctly) and the benefits will over time be noticeable – and even measurable.

As God’s chosen species on Earth, we humans are charged with having dominion over and being stewards of His creation. With that designation comes the responsibility of taking care (within reasonable bounds and parameters) of things within that created infrastructure.

Like trees. Like the ones in towns and cities. Like in Houston and Texas County.

I’m no “tree hugger” or over-the-top environmental activist, but I’d say the Tree City USA idea is not only worthy of notice, but perhaps of application, too. Anyone interested in being a Tree City USA pioneer in Texas County can call Mills at 417-967-3385. 

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: ddavison@houstonherald.com.

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