Louisville native Catherine Shea Jennings pens award-winning essay on "Working Trees: Kentucky's Renewable Future" Posted: April 29, 2009
The Great Forest: Protecting Kentucky’s Trees
By Shea Jennings
For many of us, it is a familiar sight: golden beams piercing through the tree limbs as the sun rises on another stunning Kentucky morning. And while we often pause to marvel at the beauty of the scene, we fail to see one of the most essential flaws in it. The trees of Kentucky are suffering greatly, and very few conservation efforts are being made. Nature has granted us these looming, majestic behemoths, and we are slowly destroying them in return.
Kentucky’s first pioneers were astounded by the verdant vegetation, abundant wildlife, and, most of all, the towering trees that they found waiting for them in the land that would become the Bluegrass State. “We…passed through a great forest on which stood myriads of trees, some gay with blossoms, others rich with fruits. Nature was here a series of wonders, and a fund of delight,” wrote Daniel Boone of his travels through Kentucky. Boone had no way of knowing what intellectual and technological advances were to come in the future, and how they would impact his “great forest.” Living in a state where forests cover 47% of the land area, it is of utmost importance that the residents of Kentucky take forest conservation seriously. Trees affect water quality, the health of wildlife, climate control, employment rates, the economy, and even education. With so many issues at stake, it is astounding that more attention is not being paid to the forests of our state.
During a recent camping trip with my Girl Scout troop, we were asked by the camp ranger to assist with clearing debris from the wind storm that had resulted from Hurricane Ike’s devastation. We spent two days raking trails, moving fallen limbs, and restoring the area to its original splendor. It was early October, and autumn was everywhere – in the vibrant colors of the changing leaves, the chilly wind that whipped through our campsite, and the veritable energy that the forest exuded. The damage that Ike had brought to the area was heartbreaking, and I felt as though with every bare patch of land that I saw where a tree had once defiantly stood, another toll had sounded for the forests of Kentucky.
Like many students, I was thrilled to have a week’s worth of unexpected vacation due to the wind storm. However, walking my dog through the park on the Monday after the storm, I spied park officials huddled together, deep in conversation. It was only then that I began to notice the numerous trees and limbs that littered the lush rolling hills of the park, dotting the landscape like a checkerboard. It seemed as though everyone I spoke to that week had a story about an ancient tree in their neighborhood that was no more, downing power lines and blocking traffic. Why, I wondered, did it take a hurricane for Kentucky to become concerned with the trees nearby us? Are we really so blind to the nature that we see everyday? And as quickly as the panic had come, it subsided within just a few days. People became more preoccupied with when the electricity would return to their houses than with the environmental damage that had occurred.
Even in this age of technology and intelligence, we insist on exploiting trees for our own purposes, without a thought as to what impact our actions will have on the environment. We teach our children from a young age to be responsible for their own actions, but we claim to have no part in harming forests. “Loggers do that, not me!” we protest. But the reality is that every time you crumple up that unused sheet of paper or throw away that cardboard instead of recycling, you are contributing to the problem. Trees have greater importance than most of us realize. For example, root networks along stream banks prevent erosion and absorb water, inhibiting flooding and improving water quality. The forestry and conservation industries provide thousands of jobs, boosting our economy in these difficult times. One of the most obvious benefits of tree conservation and forest-management practices is improvement in air quality. Trees absorb carbon dioxide that we exhale, and a single tree can produce nearly three-quarters of the oxygen required for one person. With so many advantages to conserving this precious natural resource, it seems obvious that we should take as many steps as possible to protect trees.
So what can we, as ordinary Kentuckians, do to help forests? It’s as simple as using the other side of printouts as scratch paper, or not breaking off that limb of the tree by your house. Recycling paper and newsprint is an action that everyone can take. Advocate for more responsible public policy on issues such as mountaintop removal by lobbying elected officials for the protection of forests. Trees give us life with the oxygen they release, so return the favor – plant a tree on Arbor Day, or help to look after trees in your neighborhood or a nearby park. Perhaps the most important thing you can do, however, is to learn as much as possible about conservation methods and responsible forestry practices, and to share that information with others. In a world where knowledge is vital, we all need to be educated about the planet we live on and how to respect it. Even the smallest action to improve forest management efforts by all Kentucky residents will bring forests and trees into the limelight and give them the awareness that they, and all the other environmental facets they impact, deserve.
It is our responsibility as citizens of this great Bluegrass State to do our part to conserve trees and to spread the awareness to others. Step by step, hand in hand, we will lead the movement so that the “great forest” that Daniel Boone beheld so many years ago will be preserved for future generations.
1. ""Kentucke, Which I Esteemed a Second Paradise:" Daniel Boone Crosses the Mountains and Visits Kentucky, 1769-71." History Matters. 31 Mar. 2006. American Social History Productions, Inc. 19 Oct. 2008 .
2. "Forest, Conservation, and Logging Workers." Bureau of Labor Statistics. 18 Dec. 2007. U.S. Department of Labor. 19 Oct. 2008 .