The Future of Urban Forestry

Improving the human habitat by promoting backyard Ecology.

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What is an Urban Forest and How Does It Relate to Me? PDF Print E-mail

There are several thoughts on what an Urban Forest is.  It ranges from specific calculations based on population density, to a general term referring to trees and plants found in conjunction with human development.

Either way, by definition, even if you have a modest yard in a city subdivision, you are a part of the urban forest.   Your piece represents a larger and quite significant part of the ecosystem as a whole and the life it sustains.  Every one of us is important, including the trees we love.  Do you realize that the very human race itself evolved along side trees? This leads to the fact that trees are an essential part of our city and suburban habitat.

80% of the population of the United States directly benefits from urban forests on a daily basis.  There are 306 million people in the U.S.  That means that 245 million people in our country are positively affected by Urban Forest trees every day.  

But how exactly do trees benefit us? 

Trees are good for our pocketbooks:

Micro-climates are created by trees, as they moderate surrounding temperatures.  Trees properly placed in relation to a home, can reduce heating and cooling costs by 30%.  So, say your utility bill is $100 a month (way low for most of us). That would be a savings of $360 dollars a year.  

Over a 50-year lifetime, a tree generates $31,250 worth of oxygen, provides $62,000 worth of air pollution control, recycles $37,500 worth of water, and controls $31,250 worth of soil erosion. (USDA Forest Service Pamphlet #R1-92-100).  This adds up to $162,000 over the course of mature tree’s lifespan.   Talk about value!

Just imagine what properly placed trees could do for our economy! 

Trees are good for the environment we live in.

The canopy of a tree can screen out and reduce noise and light pollution.  Street traffic, planes overhead, street light – the list goes on.  Trees improve the air we breathe.  They absorb toxic compounds and release oxygen.  Trees reduce the amount of ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide, among others.  Take a deepth breath - ahh. 

If every American family planted just one tree, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere would be reduced by one billion pounds annually. This is almost 5% of the amount that human activity pumps into the atmosphere each year! (American Forestry Association Tree Facts: Growing Greener Cities, 1992.)

One tree that shades your home in the city will reduce the use of heating and cooling energy consumption.  This cuts CO2 buildup as much as 15 forest trees. (National Arbor Day Foundation pamphlet #90980005)  So, your one urban tree is as important to the environment as up to 15 forest trees!

See this publication from The Arbor Day Foundation to learn more about the benefits of proper tree placement

Trees hold soil together with their roots.  They reduce erosion.  They slow down water runoff and absorb much of it and the toxic chemicals it may contain.  This helps protect our waterways, wetlands, rivers and lakes and our essential water supply.  They cycle moisture back in to the atmosphere through transpiration, this facilitates precipitation as humidity levels increase, which replenishes the freshwater supply.  In Michigan, we are in a land of the greatest resource on earth – fresh water.  As this resource is being used up, the value of freshwater increases.  It is thought that as wars are now waged over oil, some day, will they be over water.  As Michiganians it is our duty to our future to protect this diamond in the rough.  Wow, all that from trees!

Our fellow creatures will thank us.

Trees are host plants to a large number of the moths and butterflies in Michigan.  The Red Admiral butterfly uses the Elm tree.  The spectacular Luna moth uses several different native trees as hosts.  Bees often nest in tree cavities.  Hundreds of bird species and many other small animals make trees their home.  Flowers may attract butterflies, bees and hummingbirds, but without trees most of them will not be able to stay or reproduce.  This could have the effect of crashing an ecosystem, throwing the complex relationships that have evolved out of whack.  Suddenly pest problems that were controlled by patrolling birds occur in outbreaks.  Increased use of pesticides become necessary to maintain the health of the landscape, thus further reducing the number of good guys that can survive there.  Pretty soon you have a sterile landscape reliant on chemicals; addicted to drugs.

Urban forests increase property values, reduce crime and contribute to household income.  Without trees, property values diminish as the buffer between human development and nature disappears.  Crime rates increase as the calming moderating effect of trees goes lacking.  Trees help foster a sense of community.  They are important to our culture and spiritual beliefs.  They provide us with emotional well being and give us a sense of calm.  Urban forests add to our value of life and our standard of living.  We are healthier and happier. This is an intangible and a priceless benefit.  It is a gift to us from the trees.