Summer storms keep disaster recovery top of mind

Strong storms, tornadoes, and wildfires have rocked communities all across the U.S. this spring and summer, leaving paths of destruction in their wake.

In the past few weeks alone, thousands of acres have burned in Southern California and New Mexico. Oklahoma and Texas each have seen rampant devastation by multiple tornadoes – some bringing the strongest winds ever recorded. And with the 2013 tropical storm season now officially underway, climatologists are predicting more and stronger storms for the coasts this summer. Read more…

Another study finds connection between trees and crime reduction

Last year, we pointed to research in Baltimore City and County linking tree canopy with reductions in crime.

treesNow, the journal Landscape and Urban Planning and Temple University have released similar findings for Philadelphia neighborhoods.

Both studies cut against the conventional wisdom in a sense, as many intuit that shade from urban trees makes crime harder to detect.

Says Jeremy Mennis, associate professor of geography and urban studies at Temple: “There is a longstanding principle, particularly in urban planning, that you don’t want a high level of vegetation, because it abets crime by either shielding the criminal activity or allowing the criminal to escape.”

But in both cases, the findings indicated the increased presence of grass, trees and shrubs correlated with lower levels of robberies and assaults, along with other violent and property crimes.

The Temple study established controls for other factors linked to crime, including poverty rates, educational attainment and population density.

Adds Mennis: it may not be the greenery itself as much as the increased social interaction and public supervision that deflects criminal activity.

Increased community pride and connectivity join a long list of already ample urban forestry benefits.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service.

Climate change threatens the survival of older forests and trees

Much of the U.S. has been warmer in recent years, affecting not only which trees are right for planting, but also threatening the survival of older forests.

A Yale Environmental 360 article by Bruce Dorminey reported the giant sequoias native to California’s Sierra Nevada are facing the looming effects of declining snowpack and rising temperatures.

Photo Credit: VisitSequoia.org

Photo Credit: VisitSequoia.org

Giant sequoias are the world’s largest living species, reaching heights of 300 feet and girths as large as 150 feet. Dorminey wrote, “some sequoias can live in excess of 3,000 years before being naturally toppled by a combination of weather and gravity.”

Giant sequoias have evolved and thrived for multiple millenniums. The species may have survived previous eras of climate change but Dorminey says U.S. government and university researchers claim the long-term existence of these trees might now be endangered as a result of the changing Sierra Nevada mountain snowpack and current changes to the climate.

Less moisture and longer, warmer summers make it difficult for giant sequoias, especially the seedlings and young trees with smaller root systems, to survive.

The complex interaction of rising temperatures and shifts in snowmelt and precipitation is slowly altering and threatening environments where certain tree species have evolved and thrived.

Warmer temperatures also pose the threat of insect infestations which have already killed spruce and pine trees across more than 70,000 square miles of western North America.

Dorminey presented research showing how older forests and trees have proven to be at greater risk to the effects of climate change.

A recent study published in the journal Science found that trees ranging from 100 to 300 years old, located across a wide range of global landscapes, were experiencing rising death rates. This study and other research found that higher temperatures and drier conditions have played an important role in tree mortality and forest drought stress across the continents.

hardiness zoneYou can see how regional climates have changed over the past few years by visiting the Arbor Day Foundation’s U.S. Hardiness Zone map which was developed based upon data from 5,000 National Climatic Data Center cooperative stations across the continental U.S.

 

Baltimore TreeKeepers teach residents how to care for trees

A new program in Baltimore, Maryland, has recently upped its proactive approach to caring for city trees.

treebaltimoreThanks to a mutual effort by the city forestry board, the nonprofit Baltimore Tree Trust and Tree Baltimore, residents citywide are able to sign up for Baltimore TreeKeepers, which offers free tree stewardship classes and will aid in achieving the city’s goal of increasing tree canopy from 27-40 percent by 2040.

In a Baltimore Sun article, Amanda Cunningham, executive director of Baltimore Tree Trust, said TreeKeepers mission is “to get more trees in the ground, protect the ones we have and educate the public. We’re trying to get trees in neighborhoods with low tree counts.”

Erik Dihle, Baltimore’s city arborist, also promoted the important role TreeKeepers will play in achieving “buy-in” from the community. “We want the citizens of Baltimore to take ownership of the beautiful heritage we have.”

More than fifty people have shown their pride and care for Baltimore’s urban forests by signing up for TreeKeepers. Residents explained they were interested in the classes because they like trees, are interested in acquiring and sharing information about trees and tree care, would like to improve neighborhoods with fewer and/or damaged trees, or have a desire to do civic work.

Photo Credit: BaltimoreTreeTrust.org

Photo Credit: BaltimoreTreeTrust.org

Cunningham’s ultimate goal is “to train people in neighborhoods to take responsibility for basic tree planting and care.”  The TreeKeepers curriculum will also offer higher-level certification classes that requires helping at tree-planting events around the city.

Baltimore has three million trees in the city, 125,000 of them on city streets and in city parks, according to some estimates.

Cunningham  has seen the need for citywide tree care after recent storms, such as Irene and Sandy, resulted in losses to Baltimore’s tree canopy.

“Many simply fell over because the ground was so saturated, but a healthier tree canopy would be more resistant to storms, because air would move more smoothly through the trees,” said Cunningham. “A good, balanced canopy is very important to the growth of a tree.”

The Arbor Day Foundation recognizes the dynamic benefits urban forests offer communities by raising property value, adding aesthetic appeal, lowering temperatures, changing wind patterns, reducing energy use (and costs) and improving air quality.

The Baltimore TreeKeepers are a great example of environmental stewardship, helping to ensure the future sustainability of the city’s urban forests, and providing long-term benefits to the overarching community.

San Francisco divide over non-native eucalyptus highlights urban forest challenges

While this space is not meant for resolving local disputes, the trade-offs cities face in urban forest management often yield insight for others.

628x471 (1)The debate in San Francisco over the fate of largely-invasive species in the 61-acre Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve, is one of those cases.

The culprit is the eucalyptus, a non-native tree that offers a towering and majestic forest at the heart of the city – and severe headaches to neighboring University of California San Francisco, the landowner.

Leave it alone, say some nearby residents, citing the forest as a special reprieve from a dense metropolis. Cut (many) of the trees down, reply UCSF officials, citing infestation and the danger of fallen limbs and fire hazards.

UCSF has plans to replace the eucalyptus with native trees and grasses. A “leave things as they are” attitude that downplays management could amplify problems later. Some residents agree.

Divides over non-native species are not new. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, a neighbor in nearby Marin County sued a neighbor to force removal of a eucalyptus after warnings from an arborist. Current and prospective Arbor Day Foundation members often inquire about whether the trees we ship are invasives – and sometimes what is thought to be invasive is in fact a related species that adapts much better.

A recent op-ed in the Chronicle seeks a broader perspective. Asks Joel Engardio: why should the city take on an expensive forest overhaul when the buses aren’t running on-time and parks are overdue for maintenance? It’s not clear from the reporting whether taxpayers or UCSF would foot the bill for the project, but perhaps the broader point still resonates.

Engardio says: by all means, take down individual trees that pose a threat. But can land management be done in a piecemeal way? Is what UCSF proposes too far-reaching?

Cities grow and change, as so forests. Questions like these are the inevitable result of that change.

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Images courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle

Atlanta BeltLine links 45 neighborhoods, brings green space to residents

Cities around the country are finding creative ways to add and enhance recreational trails, a trend that helps bring the benefits of urban forestry to greater numbers of people.

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a national advocacy group, has long encouraged communities to convert abandoned rail lines into trail networks.

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That vision has come to life in an exciting way along the Atlanta BeltLine, as the New York Times notes today:

Until last year, the old railroad tracks that snaked through east Atlanta were derelict. Kudzu, broken bottles and plastic bags covered the rusting rails.

But these days, the two-mile corridor bustles with joggers, bikers and commuters. Along a trail lined with pine and sassafras trees, condos are under construction and a streetcar is planned.

The current Eastside Trail is one part of a larger project that will eventually span 22-miles and include new housing and transit.

The story of how the BeltLine got off the ground is an inspiring one – and a reminder that one person with a vision can have a lasting impact on policy. It started as a graduate thesis at Georgia Tech in 1999. But rather than gather dust – and many theses do – it was picked up by then-Councilmember Cathy Woolard, who brought artists, environmentalists, real estate and transit advocates together to champion the plan.

Overtime, the BeltLine will become even greener – volunteers planted more than 600 trees along the trail last October.

The long-term benefits will also be substantial, with enhanced opportunity to spend time outdoors in the clean air and connect to different parts of the city, some of which have been left behind by previous development efforts.

“Build it and they will come” is how the saying often goes. But, in this case, the space is already there. It is just being re-purposed in creative ways – and already serving as an inspiration for other communities.

Photo courtesy of Atlanta BeltLine.

Recycled Christmas trees give back to storm damaged shores

It is February and Valentine’s Day is looming, but the Christmas Spirit of Giving lives on along the shores of Long Beach, N.Y.

Volunteers arranged nearly 3,000 recycled Christmas trees donated by residents and the local Home Depot along the beach with the intended purpose of restoring the protective dunes that were damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

Photo Credit: New York Times

Photo Credit: New York Times

Hurricane Sandy significantly affected the Long Beach locality by washing away about half a million cubic yards of sand, resulting in an elevation loss of three to five feet in some areas along the beach.  Many residents were left dangerously exposed and vulnerable to future storms.

The plan to place the trees in the dunes was proposed by Long Beach residents and approved by city officials. According to the New York Times, “the trees are supposed to catch sand blown by the wind, until gradually the dunes grow up around them.”

Volunteers positioned the trees with their tops facing toward the surf. Officials hope this placement will be the most optimal for catching sand blowing from all directions.

Naturally growing grasses usually prevent and anchor sand from blowing or washing away, but the significant loss of sand has stalled the growth of grass. The recycled Christmas trees will take the place of the lost grasses to encourage the revitalization of natural dunes and plant growth.

States prone to hurricanes, such as the Carolinas and Florida, have been using Christmas trees to restore dunes for years. Additional localities in New York and New Jersey are also recycling Christmas trees to reinforce beaches damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

Damaged dunes take two to three years to become fully re-established.

Long Beach residents hope to establish a tradition of adding more recycled Christmas trees every year to keep building up the dunes that act as their first line of defense against inclement weather, and they’re off to a great start.

We hope Long Beach and communities like it continue to heal and be a shining example of the impact and importance of recycling.

Recycling real Christmas trees gives back to the earth all year-round

A previous blog post  emphasized the environmental, economical and social benefits of purchasing a real Christmas tree over an artificial one.

Photo Credit: Cross Timbers Gazette

As the season comes to a close, we thought we would highlight some environmentally friendly ways to dispose of real Christmas trees and give back to the earth.

It is important to recycle real Christmas trees because they contain valuable nutrients that can be used in other capacities like compost or mulch.

According to Earth911, a website that specializes in providing consumers recycling information, some of the main uses for post-harvest, recycled trees include the following:

  • Chipping (used for various things, from mulch to hiking trails)
  • Beachfront erosion prevention and river delta sedimentation management
  • Lake and river shoreline stabilization including fish habitat

The methods for recycling a real Christmas tree can vary depending on where you live, so it is important to be knowledgeable of your community’s tree recycling processes and rules.

Photo Credit:
Richmond District

The three most common options available for recycling your Christmas tree are curbside pick-up, drop-off programs and do-it yourself projects.

The most convenient (but not always available) option is curbside pick-up. In neighborhoods where this method is offered, it is important that Christmas tree owners follow neighborhood guidelines to ensure that their tree does not get picked up with the regular trash collection and end up in a landfill.

Photo Credit:
Record-Courier

Drop-off programs are only available for a limited time after the holidays but offer a one stop solution for tree recycling needs. Real Christmas trees can be dropped off at specified collection sites as long as they are completely free of all decorations. It is important to note that trees that have been flocked with fake snow are usually not eligible for recycling programs.

Finally, there is always the do-it-yourself option. Live Christmas trees can be chopped into firewood or used for home projects and crafts. For some households, they can be used as natural water habitats when placed in a pond or body of water.

You can visit Earth911’s database to find the Christmas tree recycling solution closest to you.

Looking back and looking forward in urban forestry

The Arbor Day Foundation was launched in 1972 during the tree-planting holiday’s centennial year. Much has happened in the 40 years since, and much work remains.

We have seen great progress, for example, in the spread of effective urban forest management. For many years, tree care at the municipal level was haphazard to non-existent. The standards and recognition of the Tree City USA program has helped to change that, due in large part to the partnership of the U.S. Forest Service and National Association of State Foresters.

The increased attention to urban trees care was alive at this year’s Partners in Community Forestry Conference, where a number of panelists pointed to street trees as central to creating great cities where people want to live.

In Richmond, California, and Baltimore, Maryland, and Camden, New Jersey, the beauty of newly-planted trees and community pride they inspire has strengthened neighborhoods and begun to put a dent in crime. Experts in planning and design say trees help attract new residents and commercial development. Trees are also central to the fight against climate change, with some communities finding innovative ways to include trees in cap-and-trade programs.

But urban forestry has also suffered from some setbacks. Heavy drought during the past two summers have killed or severely damaged millions of trees, with the U.S. Forest Service estimating that urban tree cover has been declining by 0.9 percent annually. Major storms have presented challenges for communities that contain both mature trees and above-ground power lines. And, declining resources have led some cities to pursue misguided policies that would transfer the responsibility for street trees from professionals to individual homeowners.

Solutions exist to all of these challenges, but they require continued management and resources. The Foundation will continue to advocate for both.

But some creativity may also be required. For example, rather than shifting tree care responsibility to people who not seek it, cities could follow the example of Chico, California, in pursuing voluntary tree care partnerships. With a declining tax base and abandoned neighborhoods, Detroit leaders opted for a controversial land purchase to allow for urban farming, an approach that has already found success in Chicago, Newark and elsewhere.

We look forward to your continued support and partnership as we continue to inspire people to plant, nurture and celebrate trees – both in our nation’s cities and throughout the country.

Push for dedicated tree care funding in San Francisco continues

Securing a dedicated funding source for San Francisco’s street trees was the subject of a Huffington Post piece by Supervisor Scott Wiener, whose advocacy this year has helped to elevate the importance of properly managing urban forests.

The issue was also the subject of a San Francisco Chronicle editorial, “S.F. needs to take care of its trees,” last month.

In the Huffington Post, Wiener points to the city’s common-sense tradition of forestry professionals caring for city-planted trees and private citizens caring for trees on their own property. But the shift of responsibility for about two-thirds of San Francisco’s 105,000 street trees upended that healthy balance.

“Unfortunately, common sense doesn’t always survive budget cuts,” Wiener wrote, adding that the responsibility was shifted to homeowners even if they “didn’t plant the tree, didn’t want the tree, or didn’t have the resources, desire or knowledge to care for them adequately.”

Policies like these are indeed an unwise and short-sighted approach to budgeting. Trees are a part of a city’s public infrastructure, just like roads, sewers and bridges – and no would one propose to shift responsibility for those matters to a piecemeal, household-to-household system.

“This haphazard maintenance system — requiring people who lack the resources or desire to be the primary stewards of our street trees — is a not a blueprint for a healthy urban forest,” Wiener adds.

He’s right – and we hope more voices will join him in calling for sustained funding sources for our urban forests, both in city by the bay and throughout the country.

Photo courtesy of Friends of the Urban Forest.