157 million Chicago-area trees improve life and the environment

SHARE 157 million Chicago-area trees improve life and the environment

Friday is Arbor Day in Illinois, a day to plant and celebrate trees. The world needs more trees, and we also need to appreciate and care for the trees already rooted in our communities. Trees need champions.

We love trees for their beauty – from long-awaited spring blooms to spectacular fall color and snow-dusted winter branches – and welcome the shade they provide on hot summer days. Yet, people often take trees for granted, overlooking all they do to improve quality of life and the environment.


Trees absorb carbon and produce oxygen, clean pollutants from the air, reduce energy cost and flooding, and provide habitat for wildlife. They add character to our communities, increase property values, reduce crime, and improve health and wellness.

There are 157 million trees in the seven-county Chicago region. When you tally the dollar value of the energy saved, pollution captured, and carbon stored by trees, it adds up to $242 million annually. And you can’t put a price on the beauty and pleasure they provide in over-scheduled, technology-driven lives.

Our region’s trees are one of our most underappreciated assets. And they are under threat. Can you imagine a world without trees? The emerald ash borer will destroy 13 million ash trees in the Chicago region, including 18 percent of all street trees! Invasive species like buckthorn are choking natural lands and native species. Inadequate tree protection policies result in the loss of valuable existing trees. And limited tree diversity concentrates risks of future pests, disease and the changing climate.

We need to do more to safeguard trees and preserve them for future generations. Often thought to be strong and self-sufficient, in reality trees need care and maintenance to survive and grow. Trees need champions – people like you and me to protect and plant them. As new trees are planted to replace lost ash, we need to select the right tree for the right location, and look to add diversity to the Chicago region’s urban forest.

The simple truth is trees matter. And we must do more to preserve and protect these remarkable, beautiful, and valuable treasures. We need trees, and trees need you. I encourage you to be a champion of trees – on Arbor Day and every day.

Gerard T. Donnelly is president and CEO of The Morton Arboretum.

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