To help limit climate change, Michigan plants more trees, asks residents to do the same

Hayley Harding
The Detroit News

The state of Michigan is trying to plant more trees this year, and officials want the public to join in.

The "Mi Trees" campaign, launched on Arbor Day in April, encourages people to plant trees wherever they have the space.

Part of the 1T effort, an initiative of the World Economic Forum to plant one trillion trees across the globe, Mi Trees has pledged 50 million trees across the state by 2030.

"It's not that one tree's going to take care of these issues, but that's the point. Every tree that we can get into the ground is going to be a step in the right direction," said Kevin Sayers, urban and community forestry coordinator for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources' forest resources division.

Trees can help with climate-related problems. In addition to providing shade when they reach maturity, trees also can increase carbon sequestration, Sayers said, a process that reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. They can also help manage storm water problems by intercepting rainfall from storms.

In more urban places like Detroit, trees also can reduce something known as the "heat island effect." A heat island is a place typically in a city where temperatures are higher than in other places, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, due in part to buildings and roads that "re-emit the sun’s heat more than natural landscapes such as forests and water bodies."

A heat island can be as much as 7 degrees higher than outlying areas during the day, the EPA said. That can lead to increased electrical demand as people turn up air conditioning, up the creation of harmful air pollutants and make it generally less comfortable.

"There are so many good, positive things that come from planting trees," Sayers said. "It's not just about building resilience for global climate change. There's a lot of human health, physical health and social improvement that happen as a result of planting trees. Wildlife habitat is improved, water quality is improved ... there's a number of different benefits."

Michigan DNR expects to plant more than six million trees this year on state forest land, which Sayers estimated may be slightly ahead of what the state normally does in a year. 

To hit that 50 million goal, members of the Department of Natural Resources are also encouraging members of the public to plant their own trees. The department has even launched an interactive map for people to report where they've planted trees.

In a news release in May, the department estimated that nearly 270 people had already pinned more than 50,000 trees to the map. In that same release, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said that the effort was important to "protect our state's green spaces."

“Michigan’s natural beauty and resources are the pride and joy of every Michigander,”  Whitmer said, touting the investment the state has committed to parks as part of her "Building Michigan Together Plan."

To plant a tree that will last for a long time and support the environment, experts like Sayers recommend being specific with the plantings.

Consider planting native trees to the area, which can help support local wildlife by providing food and shelter. Sayers also recommends making sure that the tree is in the right space: consider how big it will be when it reaches its full height and whether it might be too close to buildings or utility lines.

Also make sure it is planted correctly for the soil it will grown in and for the amount of water it will get. DNR recommends watering daily for the first week the tree is planted and then once a week after (and less, if the ground feels wet). Employees at local conservation districts or even garden centers can help find the best tree for the intended spot, and resources are available online from groups such as the Arbor Day Foundation.

"We're hoping to plant trees that are going to be here for the long-term," Sayers said. "In order to do that, it starts with getting the right tree, getting it in the right location and getting it in there the right way. If you start with poor quality in any of those things, it's like just throwing money into a hole."

Twitter: @Hayley__Harding