Opinion

Almond trees vs. forest trees: the fight of the century

The seemingly rampant vilification of almonds and almond production methods is more than just a bit puzzling to me. It appears that most who have expressed such angst are conveniently ignoring all of the positive aspects of almonds while greatly exaggerating the negative.

The most obvious benefit of almond production is the access it provides to an excellent source of fiber, protein and Omega-3 fatty acids. Of course, almond trees - just like any other food source - require water. Complaining over a necessary aspect of almond production, while conveniently ignoring all of the benefits, is simply foolish.

It is valuable to keep things in perspective. A single acre of trees produces oxygen at a level equal to the consumption needs of eight people per day while also clearing pollutants from the air. In fact, a single tree is capable of enough NOx uptake to offset the NOx emitted by an automobile driven 3,600 miles. While these numbers are not necessarily specific to almond trees, all trees produce oxygen and absorb pollutants, giving almond production benefits beyond just the access to a food source that many consider to be among the healthiest available.

As it relates to water usage, there are other issues that should first be addressed before vilifying the almond. The Western forests, including those in the Sierra Nevada, are overly dense with trees that cannot be logged due to environmental laws, and do not serve as a source of food.

These forests contain nearly 200 more trees per acre than a century ago, and this increased tree density is responsible for the loss of a conservatively estimated 17 million acre-feet of water per year, which is significant enough that it could meet the needs of everyone in California for a year.

While these trees –- like all others –- produce oxygen and absorb pollutants, they also serve as fuel for wildfires and have a tremendous environmental impact on indigenous plants and animal species.

So while almond trees consume water but generate tremendous positive benefits, the overly dense forests in the Sierra Nevada are adversely affecting the watershed - the new tree canopy alone keeps up to 30%of the precipitation from ever seeping into the ground - while also serving as fuel for disastrous forest fires.

These forest fires are highly destructive, costly to fight and pollute the air at a shocking rate, and yet the focus of so many remains on almond production.

When evaluating anything, it is vital that all sides of the issue are analyzed before arriving at a position. A balanced approach is ideal, and that means we need to do a better job investigating the many factors involved in water consumption before vilifying the almond entirely.

To ignore the impact of the overly dense Western forests while complaining about the water consumption required for almond production is simply irresponsible.

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