Anderson Cooper 360: What trees give us – and how we can give back

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Chuck Leavell / Environmentalist, Author and Musician

In an age where we often hear about the alarming worldwide effects of climate change, global warming, and greenhouse gases, it is easy to forget that some solutions lie within our grasp.

Trees, particularly in urban areas, provide numerous benefits. They improve air and water quality, conserve water and reduce storm runoff, help reduce heat caused by buildings and pavement, and absorb carbon. It is up to us to ensure these trees are providing the maximum benefit and that we do our part to keep them healthy.

That’s where research comes in. On July 19, America’s largest fundraiser for tree research, the STIHL Tour des Trees, will kick off from New York City. Cyclists from across the world gather each year to travel more than 500 miles across different routes through the United States to benefit the Tree Research and Education Endowment (TREE) Fund and to raise awareness for the need for research to keep urban trees and forests healthy.

I am passionate about what trees and forests do for us. My wife, Rose Lane, and I are tree farmers in Georgia, carrying on a tradition of good stewardship of the land that her grandparents passed down to us and that was begun by earlier generations of the family more than 100 years ago. We do our best to care for the land in a responsible way, to set an example for our two daughters and two grandsons about caring for the earth.

In 1999, the American Tree Farm System selected us as the National Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year. That was a great honor, and we began wondering what more we could do. I became more involved with national conservation efforts, working with local governments and Congress to educate our lawmakers on environmental issues like sustainable forestry and biodiversity.

Trees and wood are the most wonderful natural resource we have. Our forests give us materials to make our homes, our schools, our churches, materials to make books, magazines, newspapers. I wouldn’t have a piano to play if it weren’t for the resource of wood, nor would my pal Keith Richards have his guitars or Charlie Watts have his drums. Trees are natural, organic, and most importantly, they are renewable.

Many people say, “Well, we should save all the trees and build our things out of plastic or aluminum.” What they don’t consider is how much more pollution it causes to make those things. Plastic and aluminum don’t grow naturally, and they don’t grow back.

Across the country, tree farmers like me plant millions of additional trees, but it’s imperative that we as a nation care for the ones we have, too. A January study led by the United States Geological Survey found that in the past few decades, tree death rates in the western U.S. have more than doubled – even in forests considered to be healthy.

Supporting organizations like the TREE Fund and the American Tree Farm System that enable education and research into the health of our nation’s trees is more important now than ever before. We need to learn everything we can about our nation’s most valuable resource in order to save them for future generations.

I try to live by an old Haida Indian expression: “We don’t inherit the land from our parents, we borrow it from our children.” The beauty of sustainable forestry is that it is not just about doing something good today. The positive effects may not even be seen for many years to come. But for our children and our grandchildren, the work done by the cyclists this week on the STIHL Tour des Trees to benefit the TREE Fund’s research will affect generations of trees, and people, for many years to come.

For more information on the STIHL Tour des Trees, please visit

Editor’s Note: Chuck Leavell is an environmentalist and author who has also spent 27 years anchoring the Rolling Stones on keyboards. He has performed with everyone from the Allman Brothers Band to Aretha Franklin to Alanis Morissette. Chuck and his wife Rose Lane are among the 10 million private citizens who own and manage the largest single chunk of U.S. forestland and keep our forests thriving. He is a board member of the U.S. Endowment for Forest Communities and recently co-founded the earth-first Web site Mother Nature Network, MNN (, the everyman’s eco-guide to environmental news and information.