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Volume 15, Issue 32 ~ August 9 - August 15, 2007

Where We Live
by Steve Carr

Calling All Tree Huggers

It’s not just crops that this drought’s left a disaster

I spend a good part of my summer evenings sitting on my cliff, staring out at the scenic Severn River and the tree-lined shores of Annapolis.

So I sat on the evening of the July full moon, referred to by our people here before us as the Thunder Moon, or the Hay Moon, in honor of the beneficial summer rains that help nourish a bountiful harvest.

Nasty thunderstorms were predicted but only teased us with a brief passing shower while painting the sunset sky with fiery crimsons and menacing charcoal clouds. The much-needed rains remained a fleeting promise.

From the leafy heights of a towering, old yellow poplar tree along the cliff, a lone mourning dove was doing an eerie imitation of Sam Nakai, the famous Navajo flute player, its mournful notes hanging on the evening air like rain prayers. These dry days, the birds are as parched as the trees. I have seen them drinking desperately from swimming pools and polluted puddles after a car has been washed. It’s dry as a bone around here, and the natural world is suffering.

The Drought of ’07 has yet to play itself out, but if the first act is any indication, this drama isn’t going to have a happy ending.

About 92 percent of Maryland is experiencing a moderate to severe drought, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center. Rainfall amounts are more than four inches below normal. I’m not going to go into a rant about global warming, but at this point it should be pretty clear that normal is a thing of the past.

The governor has asked the federal government for disaster relief, and the Farm Bureau estimates that state farmers could lose more that $150 million dollars as the corn, hay, soybeans and vegetables wither in the powdery dry dirt. So now the might of the federal government will be delivered to Maryland farmers in the form of low-interest loans.

What about the Trees?

That’s all fine and dandy, but what about the trees? Are they not equally part of this disaster? Who’s coming to their aid?

And what about all the thirsty street trees lately planted along highways, in new residential and commercial developments and as part of Earth Day celebrations?

I took a look while riding my bike around Annapolis, checking out the state of our trees. What I discovered was alarming.

Mayor Ellen Moyer is a big tree-hugger. She founded GreenScape, the city’s annual spring tree-planting party. Over the course of the last two years, the city has planted almost 2,000 new trees around Annapolis, mostly small native varieties, like dogwoods and redbuds.

Annapolis prides itself on being a Tree City. It has won numerous awards for maintaining over 40 percent of its urban tree canopy. Now the city has signed an agreement with the state to expand that canopy to at least 50 percent by 2010, meaning Annapolis will be planting nearly 1,000 trees a year for the next few seasons.

But as I checked out the recently planted trees along some of the main drags into Annapolis, like Rowe Boulevard, Forest Drive and Hilltop Lane, I saw many of the new trees looking ragged.

It takes a tree about two years to get firmly established. If it gets badly stressed in that time, from, say, a prolonged drought, it often doesn’t make it. Many trees planted last year, for instance, are already dropping their leaves, a sure sign that they are having a hard time surviving.

The city has been putting those green water bags on trees in high-profile areas, like Duke of Gloucester Street and in the Heritage community. But most of the trees around town are on their own.

Taking Care of Baby

We all need to consider the implications of this impending disaster. Those of you who care about the environment, about reducing energy consumption and reducing global warming, have probably planted a tree with your kids or community association in the last few years. Have you been out to see how that tree is doing? Because that’s your baby.

There is an old addage: If a tree falls in the forest, and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?

Here’s today’s version: If a tree isn’t regularly watered, and no one checks to see how it’s doing, does it survive?

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