Each year, as forest fires rage across the state, it’s heartbreaking to see thousands of trees consumed by flames. Just a few months ago, the Gladiator Fire blazed through more than 16,000 acres in the Prescott National Forest; and last year, the Wallow Fire destroyed more than 530,000 acres of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, making it the largest forest fire in the state’s history. Unfortunately, many residents lost their homes in both of these fires, and all of us have lost so much that these tranquil forests have to offer.
But it’s not just the beauty or serenity of the forests that we lose. We also lose the environmental benefits the trees have to offer. Here’s a quick snapshot of what is lost when these devastating fires hit our region:
Carbon Dioxide Absorption
A single mature tree can absorb carbon dioxide at a rate of 48 pounds a year, the same amount of carbon generated from a car driven more than 8,500 miles.
About 98 percent of a tree’s weight is made up of six elements: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur. In one year, one tree releases up to 260 pounds of oxygen.
Trees help the soil remain in good condition as they help reduce erosion and create a suitable environment that allows microorganisms to grow.
Trees minimize topsoil erosion, keep hazardous pollutants in the soil from flowing into our waterways, help reduce water runoff and persistently replenish our groundwater supplies.
In addition to the above benefits, we should also count the many species of birds, butterflies, insects, reptiles and mammals that utilize trees for their homes and food supply.
It's vital that trees are protected and replaced when fires such as the recent Gladiator Fire, the Wallow Fire and the 2002 Rodeo-Chediski Fire destroy hundreds of thousands of acres. That's why we've developed the Trees for Change program for SRP customers.
The Trees for Change program is an easy, personal way to effect change. SRP customers simply sign up to add $3, $6, $9 or more to their monthly SRP bill. SRP will match every dollar our customers contribute up to $160,000, with 100 percent of the funds used to plant trees in Arizona forests. In addition, SRP employees have volunteered their time with the National Forest Service to plant the seedlings.
This past spring we started a number of projects including:
• 60,000 seedlings will be planted on approximately 600 acres of the Coconino National Forest where the Schultz Fire scorched more than 15,000 acres in 2010.
• Approximately 30,000 seedlings will be planted on 250 acres in the Highway 261 and Eagar South areas of the Apache-Sitgreaves Forest.
We are also very proud of our past efforts that include:
• Reforestation efforts in 2009 and 2010 in which 254,000 seedlings (consisting of about 247,000 ponderosa pines and about 7,000 Douglas-firs), were planted on 900 acres of the Warm Fire area.
• In 2011, crews planted more than 100,000 ponderosa pine seedlings on 300 acres of the Warm Fire area on the North Kaibab District along Highway 67, a popular route connecting Jacob Lake to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
• 82,000 native ponderosa pine seedlings were planted across 510 acres on the Black Mesa Ranger District, which was burned by the 2002 Rodeo-Chediski Fire. That fire consumed more than 467,000 acres of woodland.
Our goal is to help return Arizona land to its original beauty. Once the recent damage has been assessed by forest officials, we hope to replant the areas devastated by this year’s fires. SRP has a long and rich history of environmental stewardship and is concerned about the environmental challenges we face today.
For more information about SRP Trees for Change, log onto www.srpnet.com/trees or call (602) 236-4425.
Lori Singleton is director of SRP Emerging Customer Programs – Solar, Sustainability & Telecom.