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Nature Literacy Quiz Level 3

1.  What percent of tree cover makes residents want to stay in a neighborhood?

Answer- 60% canopy cover

Every place has a history, family stories, memorable streams, trees, rocks and scenic views.  In Pennsylvania (Penn’s Woods), living with trees and four seasons is part of our life experience and sense of place.   You might call it our ecological address.  Sometimes, it is only after you have gone somewhere else and have come back that you appreciate the qualities of a place.

Our sense of place is where we define our identity and acknowledge the qualities we value in life.  Knowing a place involves the human experience in contact with the environment over time along with things that make a place special and unique like a stream, a wooded park, a tree-lined street or an old oak tree.  Our sense of place grows from our own experience in relation to the nature and culture that surrounds us.  A place is recognized with its history and provides a lasting reference and stability in our life.  A place also makes where we live, our home.  

Why People Love Where They Live

Neighborhood trees and landscaping provide significant emotional and spiritual experiences that are important to people’s lives and can foster a strong attachment to particular places and trees.1

A study in Baltimore, Maryland revealed that as the percent of tree canopy cover increases, residents are more satisfied with that community. The study also found that when neighborhood forest cover is below 15%, more than half of the residents consider moving away. When the canopy cover reached 60% or better, over 80% wanted to stay in the neighborhood.2

According to the 2010 Soul of the Community Survey of 26 communities and a random sample of more than 10,000 people, residents are most attached to their communities when they have:

  • fun places to gather
  • there's a welcoming atmosphere, and
  • there are beautiful and green spaces to enjoy

These qualities consistently emerged as the leading drivers for community attachment over the study’s three years of research.  They beat out other possible drivers such as perceptions of local economy, leadership and safety, civic involvement, social capital, education, emotional well-being and basic services across all of the 26 cities included in the survey.

The survey also found that the communities having the highest performance in the top three qualities, had the highest economic growth.3

Therefore, increasing forest canopy in urban and suburban neighborhoods makes existing communities more desirable.  Creating these "Green Neighborhoods" provides a wide range of environmental, social and economic benefits and can be an important tool for encouraging stewardship, revitalization and helping to reduce the negative impacts of sprawl.  So step outside and enjoy the wonders of nature and the special quality of where you live.

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2.  What are the main benefits of a Natural Park  

Answer: Parks and open space provide quality of life, health, cost of living, sense of place and economic benefits to local communities.

Proximity to parks and open space enhances the value of residential properties and produces increased tax revenues for communities. Open space captures precipitation, reduces stormwater management costs, and by protecting underground water sources, open space can reduce the cost of drinking water up to ten-fold. Trees and shrubs reduce air pollution control costs. And of course, there is the value to human communities of protecting the habitats of wild creatures who live near us.

Nearly half of Americans get less than the recommended minimum amount of physical activity—more than one-third engage in no leisure-time physical activity at all. In the movement to improve the health and wellness of adults and children across the country, parks have a critical role to play.   Parks and trails promote physical and mental health for people of all ages.

Tree canopy contributes to stronger ties among neighbors, greater sense of safety and adjustment, more use of neighborhoods common spaces, healthier patterns of childhood play and fewer property and violent crime.4

For many people, being in nature and interacting with the natural world, brings a sense of peace, tranquility, and feelings of connectedness - with self, others and a higher power. Nature provides a space in which we can connect spiritually both with ourselves and outside ourselves.5, 6 Zelenski and Nisbet conducted two studies to determine if there is a link between nature and happiness independent from other things that make people feel emotionally connected to life, like family, country, culture, music, and friends. They found that our emotional connection with nature often predicts our happiness regardless of other psychological factors.7

Studies like these should motivate people to take a walk in their neighborhood, to look up and see the sun gleam through the dancing leaves and to hear the sounds, smell the fragrances and appreciate the seasonal diversity and colors of nature.

Encounters with nearby nature help alleviate mental fatigue by relaxing and restoring the mind. Parks, backyards, trails and green spaces are settings for cognitive respite, as they encourage social interaction and de-stressing through exercise or conversation, and provide calming settings. Having quality landscaping and vegetation in and around the places where people work and study is also a good investment.

Both visual access and being within green space helps to restore the mind’s ability to focus. This can improve job and school performance, and help alleviate mental stress and illness.8

Environmental psychologists Rachel and Stephen Kaplan have demonstrated that contact with nature restores attention and promotes recovery from mental fatigue and the restoration of mental focus (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989; Kaplan, 1995). They attribute these beneficial qualities to the sense of fascination, of being immersed "in a whole other world,” and to other influences of the natural world.9

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3.  What natural habitat provides the highest financial return to the local economy free of charge

Answer:  Wetlands

Wetlands provide an abundance of valuable functions and services including flood storage, wildlife habitat, pollution removal, recreation and commercial products.  These “free” services are often taken for granted and can be difficult (if not impossible) as well as very expensive to replace, as wetlands are altered or degraded in a watershed. 

Despite the expense and uncertainty associated with replacing the lost ecological services of wetlands, urban and rural development, which accounted for 61% of wetland losses during 1998-2004 (Dahl, 2006), continues to impact wetlands.  Preventing the loss of wetland functions is a challenge, particularly when financial gains for individual parcel development seemingly outweigh non-market wetland values for the greater community. To address this concern, scientists have begun to assign economic values to the important roles of wetlands. This is done through a process known as economic valuation that aims to make ecosystem goods and services directly comparable to other sectors of the economy.

4.  How many acres of forest are needed to offset the annual C02 footprint for one home?

Answer:  1 acre of mature hardwood trees about 20 inches in diameter.

How much carbon can be sequestered in trees and shrubs?  Dry wood contains about 50% carbon by weight, and each pound of dry wood is the equivalent of about two pounds of carbon dioxide gas removed from the atmosphere.

A softwood tree like pine or tulip poplar one of in diameter contains up to 500 pounds of carbon, equivalent to removing 2000 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Large hardwood trees like sugar maple trees can remove up to 450 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year. 

The average single-family household in the U.S. produces about (26,000 lb) of carbon dioxide emissions each year. If personal transportation is included, the amount is approximately doubled. Keep in mind, however, that these figures do not include a household’s share of all the emissions produced by others to support our way of life. When CO2 emissions from all sectors – agriculture, commerce, industry, government, etc. – are added, the average single-family home is responsible for more than 115,000 lbs of CO2 emissions per year. Still, this total presents an incomplete picture of household emissions, because it omits all other greenhouse gases. When methane, nitrous oxide, and other gases are included, the average household generates more than 160,000 lbs of carbon dioxide equivalents annually. Because the numbers are so large, and the sources of emissions so numerous, there are many opportunities for individuals and families to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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5.  Childhood asthma is growing at a rate of 1% every 7 years and is highly correlated with carbon dioxide in the air.  Wooded areas help reduce the incidence of childhood asthma each year by what percent?

Answer:  24%-29%

There is a direct relationship between habitat and tree cover and air quality in a community.  Trees and landscaping improve local and regional air quality by altering atmospheric conditions that reduce temperatures and other microclimatic effects.

Atmospheric pollutants like ozone, particulate matter, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide can induce asthma and a variety of other respiratory problems. A recent study reports a direct correlation over the last twenty years in the rise of CO2 and the incidence of childhood asthma.10

From their research, Gina Lovasi, Ph.D. and colleagues reported that young children who live in city neighborhoods with tree-lined streets are less likely to develop asthma. Estimated asthma rates in preschoolers would fall by 24%-29% for every standard deviation increase in tree density, equivalent to an additional 343 trees/km.11

6.  How much money can an average homeowner save each year by designing with climate in mind?

Answer:  Carefully placed trees can reduce home cooling costs by 10-30%.

Smart landscaping can go a long way toward increasing the comfort of your home. Just a few simple considerations when landscaping your home and property can make a big difference in your comfort and the efficiency of your heating and cooling systems:

  1. Carefully positioned trees can reduce a household's energy consumption for heating and cooling by up to 25 percent. Computer models devised by the U.S. Department of Energy predict that the proper placement of only three trees can save an average household between $100 and $250 in energy costs annually.
  2. On average, a well designed landscape provides enough energy savings to return your initial investment in less than 8 years.
  3. Shading of an air conditioner can increase its efficiency by as much as 10 percent.
  4. A well-planned landscape can reduce an unshaded home's summer air-conditioning costs by 15 to 50 percent.
  5. In open areas, windbreaks to the north, west and east of houses cut fuel consumption by an average of 40 percent. Houses with windbreaks placed only on the windward side (the side from which the wind is coming) averaged 25 percent less fuel consumption than similar, unprotected homes.

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7.  What percent of birds in the Atlantic flyway are in conservation need?

Answer: According to National Audubon Society, 40 percent of the birds in the Atlantic flyway are in “conservation need”. This means they need more habitat.

The average bird eats about half their weight each day during migration. The presence of birds is a good barometer of the habitat quality meaning all levels of species including amphibians, moths and wildlife are functioning.

Vanishing habitat and habitat fragmentation have led to 50 percent fewer birds than 40 years ago. 230 species of North American birds are at risk of extinction.12 And if we lose the insects, including spiders and moths, we lose amphibians, bats, and rodents. The Lehigh Valley is losing over 2 square miles of habitat each year.13 The Chesapeake Bay watershed is losing 100 acres of trees each day.14

8.  How large must a habitat be to support breeding populations of forest dwelling birds?

Answer: Large protected and connected natural habitats (nodes) are often the foundation for any regional green habitat network. This is sometimes called “green corriodrs .” Parks, trails, greenways and other open spaces can link natural communities to each other and to the regional landscape matrix.15 When it comes to protecting sustainable populations of wildlife, size does matter and bigger is better. Shape counts too.16 Suburban neighborhoods provide the added forest, field habitat and buffers to help sustain both edge and interior bird populations.

The greatest diversity can occur when there are enough large native habitat areas (600 acres) with edges for all species to breed successfully. Forest patches that are too small may not offer enough interior habitat to sustain breeding individuals. Similarly, a forest in the shape of a long corridor or peninsula does not offer as much interior habitat as a circular or square forest. When large areas exist, smaller nearby forested habitat areas (125-500 acres) become important to bird breeding success.17

Characteristics of a forest that can determine its quality as bird habitat include the size and shape of a forest patch, how isolated the patch is from other forests, how much forest remains in the surrounding landscape, the land-use matrix and how much edge habitat exists nearby. Most of these characteristics are interrelated, so it’s difficult to change one without affecting another.

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9.  What is the primary food of migrating birds?

Answer: Insects

Insects are food for 96 percent of all terrestrial birds in North America. And their young can’t survive without them. For example, Chickadees need 6,000 to 9,000 caterpillars to feed one clutch.”18

During migration birds stopover and mainly eat insects. Their timing for migration coincides with insect development. 90 percent of native insects have developed specialized relationships with native plants. The blue flowers of Phlox divaricata, a native ground cover, for example, have too narrow a corolla for bees to reach the pollen. Only native hummingbird moths and a few other insects have a proboscis long and narrow enough to reach the pollen and nectar.19

Most plants defend themselves with toxic compounds. But certain native insects with the right enzymes have evolved alongside specific plants to break down the plant’s particular chemicals.20

Birds such as barn swallows and purple martins are capable of eating pounds of mosquitoes and other insects. But they are not the only species of birds that are known for their insect eating. Robins, mockingbirds, chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers are just a few of the many species that are voracious insect eaters. The trick is to attract these birds to your back yard.

10.   What are the major benefits of backyard conservation design?

Answer:

  • Expanding larger natural areas and natural system services
  • Stormwater and flood management
  • Personal health
  • Seasonal beauty
  • Least cost to maintain
  • Supports the local economy
  • Lower cost of living
  • Sense of place

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1. R.E Chenow and P. H. Gobster, 1990. The nature and ecology of aesthetic experiences in the landscape. Landscape Journal, 9, 1-18

2. Morgan Graves, et.al., 2004. Demographic and socioeconomic research team: Research Highlights. Baltimore Ecosystem Study.

3. John S and James L. Knight Foundation and Gallup, Inc. 2011. Soul of the Community Study.

4. F.E. Kuo. 2005. The role of arborculture in healthy social ecology. Journal of Arborculture. 29 no. 5 148-5

5. R.E Chenow, and P.H Gobster. 1990. The nature ecology of aesthetic experience in the landscape. Landscape Journal 9: 1-18

6. Marcus, Clare Copper and Marni Barnes. 1999. Healing Gardens: Therapeutic Benefits and Design Recommendations (9Trans), New York, John Wiley and Sons.

7. Zelenski, J. M., & Nisbet, E. K. 2014. Happiness and Feeling Connected The Distinct Role of Nature Relatedness. Environment and Behavior, 46(1), 3-23.

8. Wolf, K.L., and K. Flora 2010. Mental Health and Function - A Literature Review. In: Green Cities: Good Health (www.greenhealth.washington.edu). College of the Environment, University of Washington.

9. Kaplan, R. 1993. Urban Forestry and the Workplace. In: P.H. Gobster (ed.), Managing Urban and High-Use Recreation Settings. International Symposium on Society and Natural Resources. USDA Forest Service, St. Paul, MN, pp. 41-45.

10. Amrita Dosanjh, 2011. Childhood asthma and anthropogenic CO2 emissions. J Asthma Allergy. 2011; 4: 103–105.

11. Gina Lovasi, Ph.D., (2013) of Columbia University, and colleagues online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health estimate of Columbia University, and colleagues online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

12. 2014 State of the Birds Report (stateofthebirds.org).

13. Leigh High Valley Planning Commission

14. The Conservation Fund, 2006.The Forests of the Cheasapeake Bay, 2006

15. Denworth, J. J. Keene, B. Kaufman and J. Rogers. 1991,Guiding Growth, Building Better Communities and Protecting our Countryside, Pennsylvania Environmental Council.

16. Jones, C., J. McCann, and S. McConville. 2000. A guide to the conservation of forest interior dwelling birds in the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area. Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Commission, Annapolis, MD. 63 pp.

17. Same as 3 above.

18. Tallamy207, Bringing Nature Home. Timber Press

19. IBID

20. IBID