Trees | Earth Day Network

What You Need to Know About Trees and Why We Need to Protect Them

Facts about Trees

  • There are an estimated 60,000 different species of trees.[1]
  • Trees date back nearly 350 million years, and the world’s oldest recorded tree — over 9,500 years-old — was discovered in Sweden.[2]
  • Trees are as varied and diverse from the fruit they grow, the colors of their leaves, and their shape and height. Bonsai trees can measure less than one foot high, while the redwood trees in California measure a height of over 300 feet.[3]
  • Globally, trees occupy approximately 30.6% of the Earth’s land area, down from 31.6% in 1990.[4] From 2015 to 2016, the world lost 73.4 million acres of trees, a 51% increase from the year before.[5]
  • Human activity continues to be the single largest cause of deforestation, with commodity-driven deforestation totaling around 27%.[6]
  • For an in-depth and interactive look at changes in forests worldwide, check out this map to see the changes of forests in your community.

Why We Need to Protect Trees

  • Role in the Ecosystem: Trees play a central role in the ecosystems of forests and other species. Forests play a vital role in storing and releasing carbon from the atmosphere and they help to regulate and maintain Earth’s carbon balance. Trees also help maintain nutrient-rich soil for other plants to grow, provide shelter and habitat for animals, and contribute significantly to the global water cycle.[7]
  • Ecosystem Services: One of the most significant services that trees provide is the sequestration of carbon, which helps keep the air clean and nearby temperatures at a healthy level.[8] Additionally, trees have a powerful role in providing well-being in both urban and rural environments.[9] Culturally, trees play a central role in religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. Trees are also symbols of hospitality in several African communities.[10]
  • Economic Contributions: Globally, the value of fuelwood and wood-based products is estimated to be worth $400 billion.[11] In the state of New York alone, the forestry industry employs 41,000 people and has a direct output of more than $13 billion.[12] Total carbon storage in U.S. urban trees is estimated at 643 million tons, a service valued at $50 billion.[13]
  • Uniqueness: European beech and Sycamore maple trees have been observed altering their specific chemical makeup in their buds and leaves to ward off animals consuming their sap or branches.[14] The quaking aspen exists not as a single stand-alone tree, but rather as an interconnected group, united by a layer of underground roots.[15]

Threats to Trees

  • Deforestation: The removal of trees for commercial, agricultural, and residential purposes occurs all around the world. Rainforests are especially vulnerable. The Amazon rainforest in Brazil has lost 20% of its area since the 1970s,[16] with some scientists estimating that all the world’s rainforests could be lost in the next century.[17]
  • Climate Change: Growing levels of carbon dioxide trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere threatens the ability of trees to convert the carbon into oxygen, thereby weakening their health.[18] Rising temperatures from climate change can also harm a tree’s internal life cycle, including the ability to reproduce.[19]
  • Insects: One of the most pervasive threats to trees around the world is the prevalence of non-native insect species that can cause irreparable damage to trees.[20] In the U.S., 63% of the country’s national forestry is threatened by invasive insects.[21]
  • Forest Fires: Decreased rainfall and increased temperatures are causing warmer and drier environments, making forests much more fire-prone. Forest fires are also becoming more intense and deadly, releasing more carbon into the atmosphere, and greatly reducing the ecosystem’s ability to recover.[22]

What You Can Do to Help Protect Trees

  • Support Earth Day Network’s Canopy Project Campaign: Over the past 10 years, the Canopy Project has planted over 100 million trees in 42 countries. The campaign aims to plant 7.8 billion trees — one for each person on Earth — by Earth Day 2020. Join the global movement today!
  • Purchase only Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified products like toilet tissue and paper towels. FSC certification guarantees that companies involved in producing these products only use wood from sustainable sources that help to conserve and protect forests, wildlife, and people.
  • Advocate for urban trees: Today, more than 50% of the world’s population live in urban areas and is expected to reach 68% by 2050. Therefore, it is important to maintain the urban tree canopy in densely populated areas. Encourage your local government to adopt tree-planting measures and ordinances. Doing so provides both health and economic benefits for the entire community.[23]