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Hug a Tree—They Help Keep You Healthy

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Nebraskan Julius Sterling Morton believed that planting trees could save America, and he convinced the state to celebrate Arbor Day in April 1872. By planting trees, Morton hoped to prevent erosion, preserve the topsoil, and break some of the raging winds across the plains. While Arbor Day wasn’t officially adopted in the United States until 100 years later, Morton was onto something. A recent study finds that trees can save America, though not quite in the ways Morton envisioned. Instead, the study found that trees contribute to good health.  

Researchers led by David Nowak, a forestry researcher, conducted four analyses on the county level, comparing urban to rural areas to understand the overall impact of trees on human health. The analyses included a look at the daily “total tree cover and leaf area index,” “the hourly flux of pollutants to and from the leaves,” “the effects of hourly pollution removal on pollutant concentration in the atmosphere,” and “the health impacts and monetary value of the change in [pollutants].”  

The study provides some surprising results. Trees scrub the air of pollution, removing as much as 17.4 million tons of pollution in 2010. This translates to health savings of about $6.8 billion annually. In addition to saving money, trees prevent as many of 850 deaths and help avoid 670,000 cases of acute respiratory symptoms.

While more trees are located in rural areas, those which have put down roots in urban areas work harder and have a bigger influence. “Thus, in terms of impacts on human health, trees in urban areas are substantially more important than rural trees due to their proximity to people," the researchers write. "The greatest monetary values are derived in areas with the greatest population density (e.g. Manhattan)."

Trees contribute to overall health, but the monetary savings from U.S. trees alone amounts to $86 billion annually. While the authors admit that their analysis has some limitations, the message seems clear: Trees do change American lives. 

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Live Smarter
All National Parks Are Offering Free Admission on April 21
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Looking for something to do this weekend that's both outdoorsy and free? To kick off National Park Week, you can visit any one of the National Park Service's more than 400 parks on April 21, 2018 for free.

While the majority of the NPS's parks are free year-round, they'll be waiving admission fees to the more than 100 parks that normally require an entrance fee. Which means that you can pay a visit to the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Yosemite, or Yellowstone National Parks without reaching for your wallet. The timing couldn't be better, as many of the country's most popular parks will be increasing their entrance fees beginning in June.

The National Park Service, which celebrated its 100th birthday in 2016, maintains 417 designated NPS areas that span more than 84 million acres across every state, plus Washington, D.C., American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

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Weird
Massive Tumbleweeds Invaded a California Town, Trapping Residents in Their Homes
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For Americans who don’t live out west, any mention of tumbleweeds tends to conjure up images of a lone bush blowing lazily across the desert. The reality is not so romantic, as Californians would tell you.

The town of Victorville, California—an 85-mile drive from Los Angeles—was overtaken by massive tumbleweeds earlier this week when wind speeds reached nearly 50 mph. The tumbleweeds blew across the Mojave Desert and into town, where they piled up on residents’ doorsteps. Some stacks towered as high as the second story, trapping residents in their homes, according to the Los Angeles Times.

City employees and firefighters were dispatched to tackle the thorny problem, which reportedly affected about 150 households. Pitchforks were used to remove the tumbleweeds, some of which were as large as 4 feet tall by 4 feet wide.

"The crazy thing about tumbleweeds is that they are extremely thorny, they connect together like LEGOs," Victorville spokeswoman Sue Jones told the Los Angeles Times. "You can't reach out and grab them and move them. You need special tools. They really hurt."

Due to the town’s proximity to the open desert, residents are used to dealing with the occasional tumbleweed invasion. Similar cases have been reported in Texas, New Mexico, and other states in the West and Southwest. In 1989, the South Dakota town of Mobridge had to use machinery to remove 30 tons of tumbleweeds, which had buried homes, according to Metro UK.

Several plant species are considered a tumbleweed. The plant only becomes a nuisance when it reaches maturity, at which time it dries out, breaks from its root, and gets carried off into the wind, spreading seeds as it goes. They’re not just unsightly, either. They can cause soil dryness, leading to erosion and sometimes even killing crops.

[h/t Los Angeles Times]

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