Trees are one of Arkansas's most valuable, and visible, resources. Arkansas wouldn't be the Natural State without the vibrant hardwoods of the Boston Mountains, our magnificent pines and dogwoods, and our beautiful flowering magnolias. While we enjoy their beauty across the State, we derive far more than pleasant views from our trees. They provide a renewable resource that supports our timber industry. The unused tree parts from timber harvests may soon be used as a renewable biofuel. Our air is cleaner and our ecosystems are healthier because of them.
Because our trees are so important to our continued quality of life in Arkansas, it is important that we preserve their future, as well. This spring, Arkansas, along with the rest of the nation, will again observe Arbor Day. First observed in 1872, Arbor Day encourages individuals across America to plant trees and connect with nature. The Arbor Day Foundation distributes more than 10 million trees a year nationwide.
In recent years, even in recent months, we've been reminded of the terrible toll natural disasters can take from our tree cover in Arkansas. Ice storms, drought, wildfires and tornadoes claim thousands of trees in our communities annually. Losing these trees can cost us more than shade and scenic beauty. Research shows that one mature tree produces nearly 260 pounds of oxygen each year and removes up to 2.6 tons of carbon dioxide.
Two years ago, a powerful EF2 tornado struck the Faulkner County town of Vilonia. Four people died, property damage was widespread and the community's trees were decimated as well. To help the town's continued recovery, the Arkansas Urban Forestry Council has chosen Vilonia as the site of its annual Arbor Day Celebration for 2013. As part of the celebration, trees started from hardwood seedlings are distributed through the Arkansas Releaf program. Residents may use the trees to replace ones lost in the storm, so that future generations will again benefit from them. Since 2004, Arkansas Releaf has helped restore the tree canopies in tornado-damaged communities across the State, including Clinton, Dumas, Mena and College Station.
Elsewhere around Arkansas this month, school children, tree boards, garden clubs and municipalities will participate in their own tree-planting events. It is simple acts like these that can make our communities healthier and more beautiful.
While the planting of one tree may seem a small act, it's an act that will last longer than most, and can have an enduring effect for a family, a community and a state. It is our responsibility to care for Arkansas's natural beauty and to replenish it where we can. You can contact the Arkansas Forestry Commission for more information about Arbor Day and national programs like Tree City USA. Together, we can ensure that our state's natural heritage is recognized, maintained and respected for today and for the generations to come tomorrow.