Volunteer Perspective Series
Written by Nan Mattingly
In the 60,000-acre Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed (CREW) Project, you’ll find a wide variety of trees. The stars of the show are bald cypresses that dominate Bird Rookery Swamp and slash pines found throughout the CREW Project, as well as red maples that provide vivid color to the predominantly green and brown landscape. Of course, you’ll also see many sabal (or cabbage) palms, our state tree. All of the trees in CREW help filter and protect the water that soaks into the aquifer that spans Lee and Collier counties. This aquifer stores the water that we need for just about every aspect of life in southwest Florida.
Aside from their contribution to our vital water supply, trees in the CREW Project also provide a myriad of less visible services that enrich and improve our environment. Some of those services are:
- Natural air conditioning: when you walk under a canopy of mature trees (which you’ll find in all four CREW trail systems) you immediately notice a drop in temperature, as much as six to eight degrees. That’s a real gift in the summer months. (Trees strategically planted to shade your house can lower your electric bill by as much as 15 %.)
- Habitat for wildlife: bird watchers can delight in the variety of birds on show among the trees, from colorful songbirds to impressive raptors (hawks, vultures, crested caracaras, etc.) to charming wading birds such as great blue herons, ibises, and egrets. CREW lands also attract fascinating seasonal visitors such as swallow-tailed kites and wood storks. Florida panthers, bears, bobcats and others rely on heavily forested areas for concealment of their dens and for hunting grounds. And if you see a mature tree that is missing a long chunk of its bark, bears may have been using that tree to scratch their backs.
- Capture and storage of carbon dioxide emissions: trees are the most efficient carbon capture machines in the world. Through photosynthesis, trees absorb carbon dioxide and store it in their leaves, stems and roots. That carbon provides some of the energy that trees need to grow and leaf out. Carbon dioxide traps heat in the environment, so the trees in CREW can help lower the temperature in surrounding areas. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, all the vegetation in the U.S. (especially trees) absorbed 11 % of carbon emissions in 2017.
- Rich, refreshing environment for hikers: CREW offers four trail systems, all of which feature some trails that are lined and shaded by mature trees. When you’ve hiked deep into the woods, the lush, cool and green atmosphere created by trees is more invigorating than a session at the gym and more reassuring than a session with a therapist.
All of these practical reasons for appreciating trees are sensible and important. But it may be the natural grace and beauty of trees that most attracts us to them.