The Carbon Stored in a Tree

Yesterday marked a big day for the Green City Partnerships

Photo: Bill Bankson, 2009
Hemlock seedling getting ready to start absorbing carbon dioxide

program and the music scene in the Pacific Northwest.

Pearl Jam donated $210,000 to restore 33 acres of forestland in four of the five Green City Partnerships. Read more about the story here.

The press release (and the numerous blogs and other on-line media sources that are populating the web) covers the details of the why, where, when, and how. It’s wonderful to see so much activity and interest in the project!

I still wonder, however, if the supporters and skeptics know about carbon sequestration and why tree planting projects are an important player in storing carbon. How many people know how the carbon ends up in the tree?

A few years ago, a group of filmmakers interviewed students graduating from Harvard and asked them how a tree gets its mass? The answers were comical. Most students mentioned something about photosynthesis, sunlight, water, soil, and carbon dioxide — a good understanding of the different pieces, but not the entire picture.

So, how does a tree get its mass? And, how is it related to carbon sequestration?

Remember back to your high school biology class. Trees and plants absorb carbon dioxide through their leaves during a process called photosynthesis. Sunlight provides the energy that allows the carbon dioxide (CO2) to mix with water (H20) and form the sugars (or carbohydrates) that plants need to thrive and grow, and the oxygen (O2) that is emitted during the process.

Here is the simple chemical equation (there are more complicated equations, but this is the easiest one to use to show the process):
6 CO2 + 6 H2O + sunlight –> C6H12O6 + 6 O2

Part of C6H12O6 (the sugars) link together to form cellulose, which makes up the structure of the tree or plant — the mass! The other sugars provide the energy needed for the tree or plant to grow. Also in the mass of a tree is water — lots of it.

Now, where does that carbon dioxide come from? The simplest answer is the air! So, a tree takes in the carbon dioxide that is floating around in the air, through photosynthesis converts the carbon dioxide to sugars, and produces oxygen that we breathe. Quite remarkable!

When you add the very cool process of photosynthesis with the very cool band Pearl Jam, it makes for a big day!

Can I climb that tree to cut down the ivy?

While perhaps fun, this isn’t necessary. Instead we cut a survival ring for a tree. By clearing a 6 foot radius around the base of the tree and removing all the vines from the forest floor up to your chest height on the tree’s trunk, all the remaining ivy foliage in the canopy of the tree trunk will whither and die. The ivy’s weight is already stressing the tree enough without us crawling through its branches too. If ivy is wrapped tightly enough, pulling it out of high branches without cutting it first can further damage the tree.

Best management practices (BMPs) are created by restoration professionals and volunteers alike to most effectively address the challenges posed by each individual invasive weed species. See some other weed-specific methods at the Green Seattle Partnership website.

To practice the BMPs yourself and get your hands dirty for our urban forest and natural areas, come to a work party near you in Seattle, Tacoma, Kirkland, Redmond, or Kent!

Max Prinsen Elected to King Conservation District Board of Supervisors

From the Seattle Times: “The unofficial election results will be certified by the Washington Conservation Commission at its meeting in May and Prinsen will be sworn in at the June 14 Conservation District meeting.

The 2010 vote total of 4,232 was a big increase of the 2,757 ballots case in the 2009 election, according to board officials.

The all-volunteer, five-member district board includes three elected members and two who are appointed by the commission.”

For more on the Conservation District, visit their website.

King County residents: vote today!

King Conservation District elections are today – this is typically a low-turnout race, so get out and vote! The conservation district provides valuable services, programs, and funding to environmental efforts throughout the county.

Meet the candidates for the Board of Supervisors at KCD’s homepage. You can search around online to see who your favorite groups and organizations are endorsing, and then go make your voice heard!

Election Day: Tuesday, March 16

Polling Locations:

Auburn King County Library
1102 Auburn Way South, Auburn
Poll hours 10:30am – 8:00pm

Bellevue King County Library
1111 110th Avenue NE, Bellevue
Poll hours 10:30am – 8:00pm\

Carnation King County Library
4804 Tolt Avenue, Carnation
Poll hours 10:30am – 8:00pm

Des Moines King County Library
21260 11th Avenue South, Des Moines
Poll hours 10:30am – 8:00pm

Downtown Seattle Public Library
1000 Fourth Avenue, Seattle
Poll hours 10:30am – 7:30pm

Shoreline King County Library
345 NE 175th , Shoreline
Poll hours 10:30am – 8pm

Vashon King County Library
17210 Vashon Highway SW, Vashon Island
Poll hours 10:30 am – 8:00pm

Vanilla leaf

Achlys triphylla

Vanilla leaf can be found in the understory of upland forests. This groundcover plant grows in groups called colonies. Stems stretch straight up, 4″ to a foot tall, and support a single leaf. Leaves are thin and soft, and divided into three wide, triangular leaflets. Small white flowers have no petals and are clumped on a spike growing from the center of the leaf.

View the vanilla leaf native plant ID card from WNPS

Eastsiders: free 10-week native plant training

The Washington Native Plant Society is partnering with East King County Cities (including Kirkland, Redmond, Bellevue, Sammamish, and Issaquah) to educate committed volunteers who will help restore natural areas within our community.

The 10-week training will be held on Fridays from April 16 through June 25, in Bellevue. (Includes 3 Saturday fieldtrips).  This training is taught by top professionals on topics such as native plants, habitat restoration and northwest ecology. In exchange for this free training, stewards will commit to 100 hours of volunteer service implementing the skills learned in these classes. Participants in Kirkland and Redmond will work on Green Kirkland and Green Redmond Partnership restoration projects.

Apply Today