MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Never forget your roots. We've all heard that expression. But a certain kind of root often gets overlooked, under-appreciated. The humble tree root and the whole tree, really, helps clean our water and our air. But nobody seems to notice. WAMU environmental reporter, Sabri Ben-Achour visited a place where people are making sure trees get their due.
MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR
The blue ridge mountains are beginning to turn green with buds as spring creeps up the hill sides here near Crozet, Va. The valley below gives way to pastures. And Richard Hudson stands in one of them. His family has farmed this land for almost 200 years.
MR. RICHARD HUDSON
I'm the sixth generation of my family to own this farm. And there have been livestock here ever since the beginning for my family, you know. And the livestock's pretty hard on the land though.
Hudson points down to a watering pond that’s been filling up with mud. The cows have trampled away some of the grass here and upstream causing erosion on the farm. In this pasture though, the cows have been kicked out. This pasture will become a forest.
Fifteen hundred trees is what we have to put in that. The first thing I had to do was get the livestock off of that piece of pasture. So I built a fence to keep them out. And then I had to put down a herbicide to control the fescue which competes with water for the pine trees that are going to be planted in there. And the tree planting is scheduled to happen in about two weeks. So, looking forward to that.
Virginias department of forestry is paying Hudson about $1,000 an acre to take his land out of production and return it to forest.
I've signed an agreement to maintain this to the specifications that they require for 20 years.
But this isn't just money for trees, this is money for what trees do.
MR. DAVID POWELL
The forest cleans water.
David Powell is a forester with Virginia's Department of Forestry. He says, when you look at a forest, just sitting there, it's actually doing stuff, for you.
The forests are very good at filtering out and preventing erosion and sedimentation. It also helps store carbon. It also helps clean up the air by taking in some pollutants and storing them in the wood fibers.
The trouble is, even though people benefit from nature just doing its thing, nobody gets paid for letting nature just do its thing. And usually if nobody gets paid or otherwise incentivized (sp?) to do something, it doesn't get done. Forest gets cleared, roots get dug up, benefits gone. So Virginia forestry department wants to pay for the benefits. And maybe get consumers to do so too, later on down the road.
But Kline is director of forest land conservation with the department of forestry.
MR. BUCK KLINE
What we're doing is developing a process to link rural land owners with the uses of water which represents the urban, suburban population.
Using models, they'll quantify the benefit of their forest to a water source. They'll wrap it up and put a price tag on it and then make it a product. But is that realistic to think, one day a utility might pay for it? Pay for people to grow forests? Could that happen?
MS. TAMARA AMBLER
I think that's a very hard question to answer at this point in time.
Tamara Ambler is resources manager for the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority.
We take raw water and we -- and a lot of times we are not the owners of the land where that raw water is coming from. And so anything that we can do to ensure cleaner, better water coming in, helps us.
But comparing the costs of treating the water with chemicals and pipes versus using the environment is still in its infancy.
I think, that everybody's cautious in a world where the value of something is not easily seen. And so, I think, some of the big fears are charging an urban rate payer for clean water that somebody out in the county provides. But that person in the county may also be getting tax breaks and that sort of thing for land use.
Then again, in some cases, land owners aren't allowed to develop their land in a water shed, by law. So in a way, they pay the price for clean water for everyone else. Because they can't sell their lot for a million bucks to a real estate developer. Putting a price tag on the services their forest provides may help. But Hudson says, that price tag isn't high enough right now.
The compensation, financially can't compete with development, there's no way. I mean, you've got to have passion for what you do and it's got to be more important than that. You know, there's a lot of pollution, a lot of issues. You know, the air pollution, water pollution and anything that I can do and whatever small way that will help, that I want to do it.
Do while, in this case, nature may not be able to dominate the market, it can at least, maybe, get a root hold into. I'm Sabri Ben-Achour.
You can find links to more information and watch a video about this project on our website, that's metroconnection.org. Up next, rooting out what D.C. used to look like 200 years ago.
MR. DAN BAILEY
Really, really, it was really that way? I saw that every day.
It's coming your way on "Metro Connection" on WAMU 88.5.
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