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Breathe easier with these nuggets of knowledge

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I’m calling this my “Did You Know?” column, just so you know.

For example, did you know that trees are saving lives? The Forest Service puts the number at 850 lives per year, according to an estimate of air-pollution removal by trees nationwide. They’re also preventing 670,000 cases of acute respiratory symptoms.

Trees only improve air quality by less than 1 percent, but the impact of that improvement is substantial, according to the study. And while scientists found that pollution removal is substantially higher in rural areas than urban areas, the effects on human health are substantially greater in urban areas.

“With more than 80 percent of Americans living in an urban area, this research underscores how truly essential urban forests are to people across the nation,” says Michael T. Rains, director of the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station and the Forest Products Laboratory.

Trees cover 34.2 percent of the U.S., with a low of 2.6 percent in North Dakota to a high of 88.9 percent in New Hampshire.

And did you know that the Forest Service is the steward of about 850 million acres of our national forests, including about 100 million acres of urban forests. Wildfires are its biggest challenge lately.

“A growing proportion of the Forest Service budget has been needed for fire-related activities of all kinds,” Forest Service chief Tom Tidwell said in testimony on May 22, 2013, before the Senate Committee on Appropriations. “In fiscal-year 1991, for example, fire-related activities accounted for about 13 percent of our total budget. In fiscal-year 2012, it was 40 percent. That has left a smaller amount of funding for non-fire purposes.”

The cost of firefighting in 2014 is projected at $1.8 billion, about $400 million more than was budgeted.

Did you know that housing starts are up 7.5 percent from June 2013 to June 2014, while private residential construction spending is up 7.4 percent?

But all the news is not so rosy. Sales of existing homes are down 2.3 percent and there are fewer first-time buyers and they are considered the key to any sustainable recovery in the housing market, according to a Virginia Tech analysis.

National Association of Realtors chief economist Lawrence Yun forecasts existing-homes sales to be down 2.8 percent this year to 4.95 million, compared to 5.1 million in 2013.

“Activity is notably higher than earlier this year as prices have moderated and inventory levels have improved,” he said in a statement. “However, supply shortages still exist in parts of the country, wages are flat and tight credit conditions are deterring a higher number of potential buyers from fully taking advantage of lower interest rates.

“The good news is that price appreciation has decreased to its slowest pace since March 2012 behind much-needed increases in inventory. With rents rising 4 percent annually, potential buyers are less likely to experience sticker shock and can make smart decisions on whether or not it makes sense to buy or continue renting.”

Did you know that I’ve about run out of space to share more of these important news items? Well, now you know that, too.

This article originally appeared in the September 2014 issue.

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