By Laura Heller, Minister of Word and Service and Creation Care Ministry Coordinator for the Delaware-Maryland Synod.

Our symbiotic relationship with trees is no accident. It is the way in which God designed creation. As we expel carbon dioxide, the trees absorb it and, in return, provide us with oxygen, which is crucial for our existence. But that is not the only benefit of trees, sometimes referred to as “God’s cure all.”

Consider these facts:

  • One hundred trees remove 53 tons of carbon dioxide and 430 pounds of other air pollutants per year. (S. Forest Service)
  • The planting of trees means improved water quality, resulting in less runoff and erosion. This allows more recharging of the ground water supply. Wooded areas help prevent the transport of sediment and chemicals into streams. (S. Forest Service)
  • The net cooling effect of a young, healthy tree is equivalent to ten room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day. (S. Department of Agriculture)
  • If you plant a tree today on the west side of your home, in 5 years your energy bills should be 3% less. In 15 years the savings will be nearly 12%. ( E. Greg McPherson, Center for Urban Forest Research)
  • Trees create an ecosystem to provide habitat and food for birds, animals and people. Wildlife use trees for food, shelter, nesting and mating. These habitats support the incredible variety of living things on the planet.
  • In laboratory research, visual exposure to settings with trees has produced significant recovery from stress within five minutes, as indicated by changes in blood pressure and muscle tension. ( Roger S. Ulrich Texas A&M University)

But we are removing trees from our planet at an alarming rate. According to the World Wildlife Fund, globally we are losing 18.7 million acres of forests annually, equivalent to 27 soccer fields every minute. Maryland alone lost 14,488 acres of forest to development over the past eight years, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. According to Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake, “Since 2013, the faith community in Maryland has planted over 13,000 trees at their churches, synagogues and temples. However, for every 1 acre of forest planted by the faith community, Maryland lost 40 acres to development. Society cannot keep up with this pace of forest decimation without dire consequences.”

Forest Conservation Act amendments were introduced in Maryland during the 2018 legislative session to retain existing forests and mitigate forest loss. Under the bill, the definition of a priority forest would be broadened and developers would be required to replant trees they remove at a 1:1 ratio if they were in a priority forest area. Unfortunately, the bill did not pass this year, but a coalition of conservation groups and faith groups will fight to pass it next year.

While the Delaware-Maryland Synod Creation Care Ministry continues to advocate for this legislation, we have also been active in planting trees throughout our Synod. We received outreach grant funding from the Chesapeake Bay Trust in 2017 and 2018 to plant at least 500 trees in church properties, camps, schools and retirement communities. To date, more than 300 trees have been planted and numerous outreach workshops have been held to share the message about the importance of trees in caring for God’s creation.

Even Martin Luther, in his time, recognized the importance of our relationship with God through creation and he is quoted as saying, “God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars” and “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree today.”