SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — Trees are our silent sentinels, guardians of the health of the ecosystem, and often referred to as "the lungs of the planet." That's why caring for them and planting new trees is so important.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) has been helping people do that for over a hundred years. Their annual tree seedling sale program began as an answer to a severe depletion of forests in the state.
"Back when the concentration in New York was on agriculture and people were cutting down all the trees, even up in the Adirondacks, and no one was paying attention to what was happening to the landscape," said David Lee, NYSDEC nursery manager.
The destruction of the forests led to other consequences. Hillsides were stripped of soil and erosion became a problem. At one point it was estimated that less than 25 percent of the state remained forested.
"They decided in the early 1900's that 'hey we have to reforest the land to hold that soil,'" Lee said. "And also all the woodcutting that was going on — they were just depleting the resource, so they also realized that they needed to replace that resource."
Fast forward to the present day, and the state now stands at about 63 percent forested, but due to development and the effect of invasive species, planting trees still needs to be done.
Lee says that part of the process for the department is called the "Seed Procurement Program;" gathering wild seeds to use to grow seedlings.
"This way we know that the seeds we're selecting, which we're going to use to grow the seedlings from, are New York sourced seeds," Lee said. "So we know that once we do produce the seedlings, we know they'll do well in New York's climate. "
Each year the NYSDEC offers low priced seedlings for planting on both public and private land. They also offer a similar program for schools. But it's not just a matter of digging a hole and dropping it in — both soil knowledge and protection from wildlife are a must. The end result, Lee says, is both rewarding and of great help to the environment.
"What trees do is they supply oxygen for everybody, and what they also do is they are great for reducing the amount of unfavorable elements in the atmosphere and also in the soil," Lee said.
If you're interested in getting some seedlings, you can find a link to the NYSDEC site here.