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Saturday, Jul 26, 2014
Commentary

Investing in our street trees


Published:

As the nation celebrates National Arbor Day today, let’s pause to ask ourselves: Are we investing enough time and money in our street trees?

Street trees — those trees planted between the sidewalk and the road — are perhaps the most valuable city trees, and it is vitally important that local foresters manage them well. Street trees are a green infrastructure resource and valuable community asset. The most visible swath of any community forest is its street trees.

We all have experienced a neighborhood with abundant, well-cared-for street trees. In these places of resplendent natural beauty, we are calmed, and we are refreshed. These positive emotions are brought forth by a healthy, vibrant tree canopy and the benefits it provides. Communities nationwide have enjoyed higher property values, decreased energy costs, cleaner air and more beautiful environments, all because of trees.

We all have fond memories of traveling along a boulevard lined with grand street trees that formed a welcoming archway of tree canopy above, feeling relief from summer’s heat by resting under the cooling shade, and the splendor of autumn color. This time of year, we experience the arrival of spring, the leafing out of our precious street trees, and take comfort in the greening of our community and the joy of the songbird. This benefit of trees — this experience — brings forth pleasurable feelings and emotions, and creates priceless memories.

How remarkable the street tree truly is. We now have decades of reliable scientific evidence that street trees add real value in a myriad of ways. Among their many benefits, street trees help to reduce energy costs, clean our air and water, store carbon and reduce stormwater runoff.

Forward-looking cities and towns are taking notice and continuing to make needed investments in tree planting and care. Indeed, the value of a dollar invested in street trees is far-reaching. Street trees are part of the public infrastructure, just like roads, sidewalks and bridges. Yet trees — green infrastructure — are the only components of infrastructure that appreciates in value.

And U.S. Forest Service scientists have found that for every dollar spent on planting and caring for a street tree, the benefits that it provides are two to five times that investment.

Arbor Day reminds us all to plant, nurture and celebrate trees.

The need for effective community tree care and management is today more important than ever because of increased threats of weather extremes, storms, and insects. In this increasingly challenging environment, proper pruning, careful selection and aggressive planting, replacement, and maintenance of our street trees is paramount to the continued success of our nation’s community tree canopy.

Investments in our community forest are worthy of the strong support of our elected and appointed officials, of the community at large, and of each one of us. It is to our benefit to encourage our local municipalities to continue to give high priority to critical investments in our community forests.

John Rosenow is the founder and chief executive of the Arbor Day Foundation.

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