Advocating for Trees and Leaves


By Maria de Bruyn

This week, the town of Chapel Hill is celebrating Arbor Week, culminating in a Nov. 19 ceremony where Mayor Pam Hemminger will read an Arbor Day Proclamation and accept the Tree City USA Award from the N.C. Forest Service. It is therefore very ironic to see that this week visitors to Homestead Park and the Homestead Aquatic Center will find that 19 trees, which were shading the parking lot, have just been chopped down.  The destruction of the trees is appalling, and one hopes that the town administration would try to coordinate with utility companies to restrict such devastation of natural area features.

Why are trees important for wildlife and people? Here are just a few of the benefits they provide:

  • Urban tree canopies reduce ozone in the atmosphere and remove carbon from the air; one mature tree can release enough oxygen to support two people.
  • Streets that are lined with trees have 60% fewer particulates from car exhaust fumes.
  • Stormwater runoff is reduced by 2% for every 5% of tree cover present in an area. They also improve water quality.
  • Trees reduce noise pollution and can also help block unsightly areas.
  • Trees reduce temperatures and humidity in urban areas and can reduce wind speeds.
  • Trees have multiple beneficial effects on health; research has shown improvements for people with many illnesses as well as people suffering from stress and conditions such as ADHD.
  • Trees provide habitat for animals (e.g., bird and squirrel nests) and serve as dining areas where birds find insects, berries and seeds.

Trees of course also produce leaves, which are recognized to be very beneficial for our natural areas (including urban yards). This has become a focus in recent years for “Leave the leaves” campaigns conducted by organizations such as The Sierra Club, The Xerces Society, the National Wildlife Federation, and multiple state organizations and municipalities, including the Town of Chapel Hill. Some benefits of leaving leaves on the ground instead of raking and bagging them include:

  • Leaves on lawns, fields and gardens reduce the need for fertilizers as they provide soil with needed nutrients as they decompose.
  • Leaves can serve as mulch around trees and shrubs and don’t need to be purchased.
  • Many insects (including pollinators such as bees and moths!) need leaf litter for their reproductive cycles or to hide from animals and birds that eat them.
  • Turtles, toads, salamanders, chipmunks and other animals rely on fallen leaves for food, shelter and — come spring — nesting material.

It is my hope that Chapel Hill will truly become a town that honors, nurtures and promotes trees and that the town’s “Leave the leaves” campaign will help motivate many people to become advocates for trees and leaves.

Maria de Bruyn participates in several nature-oriented citizen science projects, volunteers at Mason Farm Biological Reserve and the Orange County Senior Center, leads a nature-themed book club, and writes a blog focusing on wildlife at

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1 Comment on "Advocating for Trees and Leaves"

  1. Barbara Driscoll | November 19, 2021 at 10:22 am | Reply

    Thank you Maria,

    I also wonder about all the trees cut down around the senior center. There were a number of fairly large trees that supported wildlife and were cleared for a sidewalk. The town doesn’t seem to be able to work within department to ensure trees are protected.

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