What do you call a group of trees? Here are a dozen different terms: arboretum, bush, clump, copse, dell, forest, grove, hanger, hedge, stand, thicket, woodland. Beyond these common words are terms indicating special tree management areas, tree species, and special aspects of a treed landscape. The point of all these terms is that trees have a special place in our geography, our environment and our lives.

Trees are the lungs of the earth. By photosynthesis they remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and return oxygen. The importance of this in a world where humans are producing excessive carbon dioxide that is proving to be harmful to other living creatures cannot be overstated. But, beyond this, they trap pollutants through their leaves and remove contaminants from the air.

And there is more! The root system stabilizes the soil, preventing soil erosion. Further, the leafy canopy moderates the effects of storms. Precipitation falling on the leaves of a living tree becomes a gentle drip or evaporates back to the atmosphere. The result is a more controlled runoff and improved water quality. Trees also provide a home for many other plants creating a healthy ecosystem and a food source for animals and birds.

In cities, trees reduce “heat islands”. They reduce summer temperatures of asphalt and car interiors. They reduce noise by becoming a screen between traffic sounds and a quieter neighbourhood. Trees bring a sense of joy and nature to urban settlements. Even the most addicted city dweller must agree with Joyce Kilmer: I think that

I shall never see / a poem lovely as a tree.

Here, in the Pontiac and western Quebec, trees and forests have a special significance for our history, economy and society. In 1806 Philemon Wright built the first timber raft to go down the Ottawa River to markets in Montreal. From this first act forest and tree operations came to western Quebec. And the response was dramatic and salient. The many tributaries of the Ottawa River, such as the Coulonge, the Dumoine, the Gatineau, the Noire, and the Quyon, provided a water highway to the virgin forests of western Quebec. The lumber industry was at its peak between 1870 and 1900. Wood was Quebec’s main export and most of it came from the Quebec side of the Ottawa Valley. Lumber barons provided work for thousands of men. Later, pulp and paper products would replace timber and lumber. But the forests remained a major resource
for the region.

Trees are among the oldest living organisms on our planet. They are also a renewable resource, capable of reproduction and growth. However, they are threatened by human misuse. We have a responsibility to protect and renew our trees. They are too essential to the planet’s environment and our survival. Before we use forests as a resource, we must learn proper forestry practices and ensure they are put into operation.