To the editor:
Taylor Run is our very own rare, urban forest. Forests are not just a collection of trees, and they are not organized as a hierarchy. There is no “boss tree.”
Instead, trees are collaborative and co-dependent, with a complex web of roots and fungi that connects all the trees and understory plants in the forest. This communication network allows the exchange of nutrients, oxygen, carbon, water and hormones, removes harmful bacteria and sends out alarm signals that alert neighboring trees to danger.
Studies conducted on the biggest trees, called “Mother Trees” by Suzanne Simard, the well-known researcher and professor of forest ecology at the University of British Columbia, show that Mother Trees share “forest wisdom” and resources with seedlings and saplings, improving their chances for survival.
Her research also shows that dying trees direct much of their carbon toward young trees. And, far from being “forest trash,” decomposing trees continue to sustain the cycle of life by releasing their carbon into the ground, where it enriches the soil for the benefit of future generations.
What’s more, dead trees help to reduce bank erosion and preserve wildlife habitats by reducing the velocity of the water flowing downstream. This is of special importance to delicate aquatic micro-organisms – an essential food source for fish – and to the health of the water that spills into the Chesapeake Bay.
Of all the damage humans can do to a forest, one of the most serious is clear cutting – not just because it strips out carbon, but because it disrupts the elaborate beneficial relationships that enable the whole forest to function like a tightly-knit family. Replacement saplings would need decades to achieve this level of cooperation.
Now, without having tested water samples drawn from Taylor Run, or any of the other local runs on the City of Alexandria’s agenda for “improvement,” our top officials, Mayor Justin Wilson and other councilors want to “restore” this natural stream by turning it into a storm drain.
In an exchange of emails over several weeks, Wilson said that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not require water tests, so none were done, and none will be done. But why? If there are no bench- mark tests done before and again after the “restoration,” how will we know if the city’s proposed natural channel design approach is effective?
Meanwhile, the harm done through clear cutting will be incalculable and enduring beyond our lifetime and the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren.
The question now is: If the forest doesn’t benefit, if wildlife doesn’t benefit, if residents of Alexandria with flooded basements don’t benefit, if the Bay doesn’t benefit, if air quality doesn’t benefit, if the planet doesn’t benefit – who benefits?
-Barbara Fried, Alexandria