Tree-planting in Richmond improves public safety through beautification

Trees are being planted in Richmond, California faster than landscape architects can track, count, and map to assess the city’s further arbor needs.

Photo Credit: Richmond Confidential

Over the past month alone, scores of volunteers have come together to plant more than one hundred trees in Richmond soil.

In exchange for learning proper planting practices and weekly watering efforts, the Richmond community is rewarded with shade, increased property value, reduced pollution, slowing traffic, and lower crime.

For a community that has struggled with crime over the years, these benefits are significant. In a recent news article, Richmond’s Police Chief Chris Magnus commended young volunteers for improving community and neighborhood safety through beautification. Magnus advocates:

An attractive neighborhood enhanced by the natural beauty of trees sends a message that the people who live there care and are engaged with what’s going on around them. This helps decrease crime and improves safety for all residents.

Research has linked increased tree-planting to decreased crime rates in other communities as well. Baltimore, Md., experienced a 12 percent drop in crime after a ten percent tree canopy increase and neighborhoods in Camden, N.J., are now considered highly desirable places to live thanks to newly-planted trees.

Photo Credit: Richmond Confidential

The benefits of tree planting extend from a broad environmental level to a personal, human level as well. Richmond volunteers express a sense of pride and ownership seeing trees in the community that exist thanks to their planting efforts. A student volunteer described the satisfaction of walking past trees she planted at a local high school as, “I did that, that’s my tree.”

Richmond Parks and Recreation officials honor volunteers for their individual roles as “guardian of the forest,” encouraging them to cherish the positive impact each person’s efforts has on the city of Richmond.

After receiving a $10,000 grant over the summer, tree-planting groups and volunteers in Richmond are continuing to positively change the future of the city, improving the social and environmental state of the community by planting trees.

Op-ed pages sound the alarm on proposals to downplay tree care professionals

Facing tight budgets and reduced staff, a number of cities around the country have either floated or are already moving forward with troubling proposals to shift the responsibility for tree care from professionals to homeowners.

By downplaying the numerous benefits of urban trees and putting their care in uncertain hands, these ideas are the textbook definition of penny-wise and pound-foolish. Even responsible homeowners willing and able to do the right thing lack the bargaining power and strategic decision-making ability that is only possible through a comprehensive, citywide approach.

The Foundation’s home here in Lincoln is one community where this is being considered, prompting founder and chief executive John Rosenow to submit this op-ed to the Lincoln Journal Star.

Confronting similar challenges, the San Francisco Chronicle weighed in with a Saturday editorial imploring city leaders to find the money to take care of street trees and criticizing the decision to shift responsibility for 1,200 trees to homeowners:

This policy requires homeowners to maintain trees they didn’t plant, might not even want, possibly can’t afford and probably don’t know how to care for.

The result could spell disaster for the city’s forest. Already, around 4 percent of our trees die every year because of age or lack of proper attention. The city employs only six arborists, down from 19 four years ago. That’s fewer than one trained worker for every 17,000 trees.

The Chronicle also surveyed several ideas for new revenue.

In Sunday’s Journal Star, Rosenow pointed to the Foundation’s experience growing the Tree City USA program into more than 3,400 communities over 36 years. We’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. He also noted that Lincoln’s experience serves as direct evidence of the need for a professional approach:

A well-staffed professional forestry team was crucial to protecting tree canopy and minimizing property damage during Lincoln’s early-fall snow storm in 1997. Other cities sustained much greater damage by banking on a penny-wise and pound-foolish approach that downplayed the importance of professionals — and the damage remains visible today.

Civic and business leaders in Lincoln have recently stepped up marketing toward young professionals and employers. Rosenow concluded:

Increasingly, jobs and the companies and professionals who create jobs are highly mobile. The successful cities of the future will be those who recruit and retain the best jobs by creating an outstanding quality of life for its citizens — including a well-managed urban forest. We would hope that Lincoln will be such a city.

We’re pleased to see the issue of tree care – often lost in budget discussions, as San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener and others have pointed out – begin to receive the attention it deserves. We look forward to being part of the continued discussion, both here at home and throughout the country.

Time Magazine surveys tree care, Foundation’s Storm Recovery Kit offers post-Sandy guidance

Last week, Dominique Browning penned “When Trees Become Lethal” for Time Magazine’s Ideas blog.

But the title only tells half the story. 

We know that severe storms like Hurricane Sandy take a toll on community trees, putting our safety and property at risk. As Browning points out, though, it is important that the discussion about urban forestry not end there.

Rather, she asks what we can do to take better care of our trees, both to minimize risk and fully enjoy their enormous benefits. It’s a question of healtcare for trees and planting viability, she says.

On tree health, she cites regular pruning and maintenance, as well as hiring professionals when help is needed. Hiring cheap assistance from people without the proper credentials is a mistake. On viability, it’s all about planting the right tree in the right place. Roots need the space to grow, and trees that tower over homes and utility lines put power and property at risk during disasters.

She concludes with this:

We need to learn how to better live with our trees and move away from our simplistic understanding of them. Yes, trees are pretty and useful but they’re also a responsibility that too often people shirk. We’re well aware that cars can be dangerous and take safety precautions not to drive recklessly or in risky conditions. We have to show similar respect to these giant, powerful beings around us. They do so much for us. Let’s do more for them.

It’s a sentiment the Foundation fully shares. Many communities affected by Hurricane Sandy are still dealing with the basics – restoring power, dealing with property damage and looking after personal health and safety. But we know that as the transition to long-term recover continues, many questions remain about how to handle damaged or broken trees. If you’re seeking resources, check out our Storm Recovery Kit, which includes both written materials and videos.

We can take care of our urban forest – and effectively recover from this tragedy, while better preparing for the next one.

Photo courtesy of the National Weather Service.

East Coast members and readers: Stay safe

As we write from Lincoln this morning, Hurricane Sandy is already producing sustained winds at 90 miles-per-hour and has made its way toward the New Jersey Coast. The Federal Government in Washington, DC, has closed, and New York City public transportation systems are being halted.

The National Weather Service is a good resource for up-to-date information.

A handful of Foundation programs and events have been affected. In consultation with university officials, we chose to cancel a Tree Campus USA planting ceremony scheduled for tomorrow morning at Delaware State University. We have also postponed our Wednesday tree planting event at LaSalle University in Philadelphia. Customers of Pepco, Delmarva Power and Atlantic City Electric hoping to participate in the Energy-Saving Trees program will likely encounter delays as utilities direct their focus toward limiting outages.

Our biggest concern is for the safety and well-being of our members and readers.

As we pointed out in the aftermath of heavy storms in June, aging and poorly-maintained trees can quickly become a threat to safety and property. We strongly encourage residents in the eye of the storm to stay alert for updates from local officials and utilities about all hazards.

Our focus at the Foundation continues to be making sure municipalities, utility providers and residents have the resources and plans in place to effectively manage and care for urban trees, in order to be as prepared as possible for future disasters. Routine pruning can and does prevent damage during disasters, while preserving the enormous benefits of street trees that would be lost if they were removed altogether.

In the meantime, we’re keeping our friends on the East Coast in our thoughts.

Leading urban design expert says tree canopy “makes all the difference” for fighting climate change

America’s cities have many tools for combating climate change and reducing the heat island effect – but leading urban designer and author Peter Calthorpe told the PBS NewsHour that nothing comes close to cooling effect of well-maintained street trees.

“You can do white roofs and green roofs, but believe me, it’s that street canopy that makes all the difference,” Calthorpe (right) said, in a wide-ranging interview on cities, conducted during the Aspen Environment Forum.

Speaking more broadly about trends in urban design, Calthorpe said that we are “returning to some timeless qualities,” with demographic and cultural shifts causing Americans to take another look at more urban lifestyle.

Policies over the last several decades helped build the middle class, but also fueled dependence on the automobile and increased suburban sprawl, Calthorpe says, and some of those trends have begun to reverse as a result of the housing bubble bursting.

“It’s not that everybody is going to move back to the city. That’s a little bit of a misnomer that people get very excited about,” he said, adding: “We need to rethink how we build our cities, so it can’t be this ‘one-size-fits-all’ paradigm that we’ve had for so long.”

Calthorpe cites Sacramento as a city that is moving in the right direction, pointing in part to a tree canopy that reduces temperature in forested areas by as much as 10 degrees, a point few who have spent time in Sacramento would dispute.

Regardless of the local context, citizens and policymakers trying to bring people back into cities are encouraged to make urban forestry central to their cause.

“You can’t have a great street without street trees,” Calthorpe concluded.

100-year-old oak tree relocated instead of destroyed

The saying, “Out with the old, in with the new” usually signifies a refreshing change.  In some cases, however, the “old” should be treasured.

Photo Credit: Grist.org

Instead of cutting down a hundred-year-old oak tree to make room for improvements, the city council in League City, Texas voted to relocate the tree 1,500 feet from its original location to neighboring parkland.

It took contractors just under a month to properly prepare and transport the 56-foot tree weighing nearly 260 tons to its new location.

The process involved pruning, fertilizing, and hydrating the oak tree, sampling soil, and creating a large, hand carved, planter-box at the base of the tree to contain and protect its roots.

Photo Credit: Leaguecity.com

Once the tree box was completed, four steel beams were placed underneath the box and two cranes lifted the apparatus onto a steel plate.  It took three bulldozers and two excavators to then pull and guide the oak tree along a grass corridor to its home.

Moving can cause a lot of stress for a tree but so far, the old oak tree has been doing well in its new location.

Older trees are often mistakenly labeled as hazard trees and subsequently chopped down.  In a public place such as a park, it is the responsibility of city officials or tree  managers to exercise care, good judgment, caution, and foresight when inspecting trees and determining them necessary for removal.

By relocating, instead of destroying a healthy, older tree, League City shows its commitment to its urban forest and has honored the value and history that trees bring to a community.

You can read more about moving the 100-year-old oak here.

Check out the incredible video of the moving process below.

Long Beach, California, may include urban trees in cap-and-trade program

Long Beach, the seventh largest city in California, is a considering seeking carbon credits for the greenhouse gas offsetting power of its trees as part of the state’s new cap-and-trade program.

If successful, Long Beach officials would use the “carbon credits” to fund continued maintenance and care for the city’s existing trees, a major boost during a time of tight budgets. The Press-Telegram, a local newspaper, has reported that Long Beach faces a $17.2 million deficit and faces potential cuts to its tree care program of more than $200,000.

According to Reuters Point Carbon:

Long Beach Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske said Tuesday she will ask the city’s office of sustainability to review her proposal to enroll its urban forest as an offset project that can supply credits to California’s carbon market.

Planting and maintaining forests in urban areas is one of four ways emitters can offset their greenhouse gas output, according to California’s cap-and-trade regulations.

It is exciting to see communities find innovative ways to preserve their urban forests and mitigate the impact of climate change.

The full article is available here. Reuters notes that Santa Monica, a beachfront community also located in Southern California, has already made a similar request.

Photo Credit: City-Data

Volunteers and local workers make a difference as drought threatens Joplin’s newly planted trees

Every year, natural disasters strike communities often resulting in a dramatic loss of trees that subsequently weakens the community’s environmental sustainability, economy, and sense of place.

Photo Credit: NPR.org

The Arbor Day Foundation’s Disaster Recovery Campaign is a structured response to the destruction caused by disasters in communities across the nation.   By collaborating and organizing with key state and local partners, the Arbor Day Foundation “facilitates the distribution of trees to citizens in communities in need.”

After the severe damage caused by the EF5 tornado that tore through Joplin in May 2011, a variety of organizations banded together to plant nearly 7,000 new trees in the devastated city.

Through a joint initiative with the Wildcat Glades Conservation & Audubon Center, the Arbor Day Foundation developed the Joplin Tree Recovery Campaign.  This campaign distributed 12,000 trees to residents in four Joplin-area locations.

Foundation officials have described the Joplin Tree Recovery Campaign as an effort to restore Joplin’s precious and beautiful tree canopy to what it was before the May tornado.

An NPR news article details that, “sturdy varieties such as oak, sycamore and redbud — trees that can withstand strong winds when they’re taller” have been planted throughout Joplin.

In spite of all the progress made through the combined efforts of local and national supporters, Joplin’s young, newly planted trees are now struggling to survive a different environmental threat: drought.

Tom Meyer, manager of Carson Nurseries in Springfield, explains that young “trees are especially vulnerable to the drought.”

According to Meyer:

Freshly planted trees are real reliant on human beings taking care of them.  They need to water right at the root base, and there’s very little root structure beyond what was just planted. They can’t bring in residual water from farther out.

Fortunately, students on mission trips, volunteers and other workers from around the Joplin area have formed “bucket brigades,” toting heavy, five gallon buckets of water in the searing heat to around 562 young trees planted in Joplin parks.

Photo Credit: Joplin Globe

Thanks to these efforts and the perseverance and dedication to the restoration of Joplin, Ric Mayer, Joplin’s tree coordinator, estimates that presently, less than three percent of the newly planted trees will not survive.

The battle for the trees’ survival is not yet over.  Mayer believes that if the volunteers keep at it, there is hope for saving most of the trees in Joplin parks, but volunteers tend to be in short supply through August and September.

Any volunteers who want to water the trees in Joplin’s parks are welcome.  Homeowners are advised to not neglect their newly planted trees as well.

If you would like to donate to the Arbor Day Foundation’s Joplin Tree Recovery Campaign and help Joplin in its efforts to restore and maintain its tree canopy, please click here.

The following “before and after” photos portray the destruction caused by the May 2011 EF5 tornado that went through Joplin.

Photo Credit: Daily Mail

Heat and drought taking a toll on trees in Nebraska, other states

Heat and drought have made this summer one of the toughest in memory for urban trees, and the evidence is especially visible here in Nebraska, home of the original Arbor Day.

According to the Nebraska Forest Service, long dry-spells can be especially damaging, even for mature trees that have survived harsh conditions in the past.

The Grand Island Independent reported on the problem and what Nebraskans can do to alleviate the strain earlier this week. Of course, these same principles apply to struggling trees throughout the country.

Woody plants across the state are also suffering from continued heat and drought. Nebraskans should pay particular attention to trees and shrubs and thoroughly water them if they begin to show signs of leaf wilt, discoloration or drying, especially at leaf edges, said Amy Seiler of the Nebraska Forest Service.

“A dry winter, minimal spring rains, record high temperatures and low summer precipitation have put extreme stress on trees this summer,” Seiler said

The uptick is temperature also makes certain trees more susceptible to infestation and disease, both as a result of the tree’s weakened state and the ability of more pests to survive warmer winters. The emerald ash borer, one of the worst pests confronting urban trees, is already getting closer to the Nebraska border.

Fortunately, with the right attention and watering, many endangered trees can be saved.

The Foundation has a number of resources on tree planting and care. They can be accessed here.

Better care can help urban trees survive drought, Texas report says

Earlier this year, a report from the Texas Forest Service found that 5.6 million urban trees in the state had been lost as a result of drought. A new companion report from the state’s AgriLife Extension presents a more complicated picture, arguing that many of the dead trees suffered from pre-existing stress.

On the surface, the new report would seem to be discouraging. Drought is, after all, an easy culprit. But in explaining the other factors that led to massive tree loss, the report also provides a guidepost for what to do differently next time.

Both the AgriLife Extension and Forest Service are part of the Texas A&M University system.

According to the report by Dr. Eric Taylor, a forestry specialist, most of the trees that died were already strained due to factors like overcrowding, growing on the wrong side, age, problems with the soil or use of inappropriate herbicides.

That means that a more proactive approach to tending urban trees during the year can help them weather and often survive the drought.

As Taylor put it: “Our best defense against drought is to promote a tree’s health and vigor through proper care and management.”

Taylor is no way discounts the importance of water to tree’s life and health – but he does want people know that trees can be better prepared for times when water is scarce.

In addition to proper pruning and maintenance of existing trees, many communities are also making sure to diversify the species they plant. Introducing new species has been critical in the fight against the emerald ash borer and other pests that can devastate urban forests.

Read more about the report here.