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Conference branches out at Mt. Pleasant Township center

| Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Cami DiBattista | For The Ligonier Echo
Bill Elmendorf, Ph.D., associate professor of community forestry at Penn State University’s Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, addressed attendees at the Laurel Highlands Conservation Coalition recently at Laurelville Mennonite Church Center in Mt. Pleasant Township. Elmendorf was the keynote speaker at the conference, which focused on the value and benefits of trees to communities. Photo taken Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013

The value and benefits of trees was the topic of discussion recently at a conference hosted by the Laurel Highlands Conservation Coalition.

Nearly 60 people attended the program, which took place at the Laurelville Mennonite Church Center in Mt. Pleasant Township.

“Trees create beauty, purify air, make oxygen, act as sound barriers and save energy with cooling shade in the summer and wind-breaks in the winter,” said Brad Clemenson, program coordinator for the coalition, a broad group of environmental organizations and individuals who advocate for conservation.

The organization strives to connect, educate and empower the many, small nonprofit conservation organizations located throughout Western Pennsylvania.

Topics discussed included philosophies of tree harvesting and programs that exist to protect trees, including help for communities seeking a greener image.

A panels of speakers shared information about the value trees bring to a community and the environment both economically and in a health-related sense.

In studies conducted among landscaped communities, people stayed longer and shopped more in areas where trees were visible, according to event officials, and patients healed faster when they stayed in a hospital room overlooking a landscaped area, they said.

Another positive resulting from the planting and maintaining of trees is aiding stormwater management, officials said.

“The economic values are huge,” said Bill Elmendorf, associate professor of community forestry at Penn State University's Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, who served as the event's keynote speaker.

“The net benefit of the trees in Pittsburgh alone is roughly $1.5 million,” he said.

Elmendorf stressed that trees are the foundation for social interaction within a community and they improve quality of life.

“They ground people in the places they live,” Elmendorf said. “You can't have community development without a healthy environment, and nature helps establish that.”

Elmendorf discussed the importance of municipalities and counties partnering up to conserve open spaces and increase environmental services. He also addressed the need to instill environmentally ethical values in future generations.

“The conference very much met the goal of the conservation coalition, which was to build capacity among small, low-budget nonprofits, and (enlist) individuals who do conservation work around the region,” Clemenson said.

On a survey distributed seeking immediate feedback of the event, an average rating of 4.4 out of a possible five was given by respondents.

“Everyone said they learned something they can use in their on-going work,” Clemenson said. “We had a good mix of presenters focused on community trees versus taking care of the woods or forests; they all had practical information that our audience could use.”

Olga Herbert, executive director for the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor, who also served on the event's planning committee, felt the conference went well and included a great variety of presentations, she said.

“The subject was important, because it instills environmental stewardship in all of us,” Herbert said.

Herbert added that she felt she learned the most from the “iTree” software presentation.

“The computer program is a great, free tool for community and residential use,” she said in reference to the computer programming which enables users to devise an estimate of the benefits individual trees provide.

“The conference was an excellent educational opportunity, as well as a networking opportunity, for people interested in conservation and sustainable communities,” Clemenson said.

Cami DiBattista is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.