Blog : Out on a Limb

By Anna | Nov 25, 2014 | in

By Barbara Perkins

PORTSMOUTH - Micum Davis has been shinnying up trees for more than seventeen years. A certified arborist, the 38-year old describes his line-of work as 'aerial yoga meets circus act'. It definitely offers a jaw-dropping perspective, says Davis. And there's an artistic element as well. Each tree is like a canvas to Davis, Cornerstone Tree Care's founder. Because every tree has a unique form, Davis studies their basic structure before making his first move.

Trees can cause serious and life-threatening problems; limbs interfering with power lines, trees blocking roads and walkways, injuries and property damage are just a few. Pruning eliminates existing hazards while preemptive work – removing dead or weak limbs, can stave off potential damage from storms. A tree care job well done, turns out a better tree - safer, healthier and good looking.

While those concepts are easy to grasp, wrapping one's mind around how climate change is affecting trees can be confounding. As New Englanders struggle to redefine what 'normal' weather means, unpredictable describes it best. Ticking off a handful of recent weather events which caused massive destruction isn't difficult. There was Hurricane Irene, which touched down in August of 2011, Super-storm Sandy in the fall of 2012 and an unnamed storm in February of 2010. That one packed 91mph winds, enough to toss around trees which were firmly rooted in a foot of frozen soil. As cold weather crept in during the fall of 2014, parts of coastal Maine made the record books, reporting massive power outages and snow accumulations of up to 12 inches. That was only October, says Maine born and bred Davis.

Powerful microbursts and tornado warnings, were once unheard of in this area. Both system types, can cause widespread damage from trees. “To be honest I had never even heard of a microburst until 2006,” Davis says. That was the year a treacherous microburst ripped through New Hampshire's seacoast causing severe damage in Greenland and Rye. “It was crazy – thousands of mature trees, big, solid and healthy as they come, were knocked down,” says Davis.

While weather has become a key driver of Davis' business, his concerns are not limited to daily weather patterns either. Davis says disease and insect infestations are also on the rise. His colleague, arborist Chris Kemp, regularly submits samples to the Plant Diagnostic Lab at UNH. Three recent results, says Davis, came back positive with diseases not found on the seacoast, but are common in damp climates like the Pacific Northwest.

"Overall our climate is definitely getting wetter and warmer," says Cameron Wake, associate professor of Climate Change at UNH. As more heat-trapping gasses accumulate in the atmosphere, we can expect to see more extreme weather events going forward, said Wake, including more frequent flooding.

"Warmer winters have already compromised New Hampshire's sugar maple trees," says Barrett Rock, professor emeritus of natural resources at UNH. Rock has covered the tree beat for more than twenty years and uses sugar maples as a barometer for monitoring climate change.

For generations, this area's freeze-and-thaw patterns of late winter (with snowpacks keeping tree roots from freezing) produced an abundance of maple tree sap. But climate change has spiked temperatures - currently, New England is two to four degrees warmer than it was 100 years ago. Rock says if the average temperature gains another six degrees, it's curtains for sugar maples. Climate change has also induced an uptick in Anthracnose, a disease, which finds the warmer fall weather to be a most hospitable environment. Now on the rise, the fungus breeds and thrives by devouring the sugar in the maple's leaves. Anthracnose, is in part responsible for a 43 percent decline in the area's maple syrup production or, as Rock puts it, “Twenty or so years ago it took about 32 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of maple syrup. Today it takes 45 to 50.” The problems don't stop there.

Lower sugar levels in leaves means a big dip in anthocyanin, the red pigment which gives the leaves their vibrant coloring. New England's world-renown colorful fall foliage, is losing its intensity - the deep reds and brilliant orange colors are now muted. “I hope I'm not depressing, but (maples) are on their way out,” says Rock, who suggests that within 40 years, New England's climate will feel more like Atlanta, Georgia.

For all of Davis' sustainability initiatives with the company, Cornerstone is also a Business Partner with the Green Alliance, a union of local, green-certified businesses and community members. Located in Portsmouth, N.H., the Green Alliance strives to bring both consumer and businesses together to make smart, environmentally-focused decisions whether its on home renovation, retail shopping, home heating and cooling, restaurants and more.

Of course, no one knows precisely what conditions the next century will bring, but experts agree, it's hard to ignore climate change when you can see what's happening in front of you. “I'm outside everyday,” says Davis, “believe me, we're seeing a lot of effects.”

To learn more about Cornerstone, click here.

For more information on the Green Alliance, click here.

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