An organization called American Forests is taking a different tack toward urban sprawl and global warming, suggesting that tree planting can do much to cool the planet -- and that trees should be considered as much of an urban infrastructure as a city's sewers, roads and power lines.

The group's Web site includes a personal calculator that shows approximately how much carbon dioxide an individual or family puts into the air per year, and how many trees must be planted per year to absorb that gas. Typical households, according to the calculator, should plant close to 100 trees to overcome the damage from their use of fossil fuels, discarded garbage and even garbage recycled.

A recent study of the Houston, Texas, area showed that over a 25-year period city growth substantially harmed the community's livability.

"The tree canopy lost between 1972 and 1999 would have removed about 15.3 million pounds of pollutants annually from the atmosphere," said Gary Moll, vice president of the organization. "We estimate the cost of this added pollution at $38 million per year."

The Forest study showed, however, that what trees remain contribute considerably to the well-being of the community, including helping control storm water runoff, saving energy by providing shade and removing pollutants from the environment.

"The remaining trees still provide significant ecological benefits," said Moll. "The study shows that the existing tree canopy annually removes 83 million pounds of ozone, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter, valued at $208 million a year."

Added Moll, "Armed with statistics like these, we can no longer ignore the fact that trees must be considered as a part of our infrastructure."

Moll believes builders and developers need to place more emphasis on working around existing woodland areas, and making sure trees are part of landscaping.

The organization maintains that shade trees in Houston reduce home energy costs by about $72 per year - an estimated $26 million in savings citywide.

American Forest, which is believed to be the nation's oldest nonprofit citizen conservation group, was founded in 1875 by citizens concerned about waste and abuse of forest land.

Through its "Global ReLeaf" program, the group has planted more than 11 million trees in more than 500 forest ecosystem restoration projects and urban and community forest projects.

Its "Forest Policy Center" provides policy information and promotes dialogue on issues related to the protection and sustainable management of forest ecosystems.

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