Earlier this month, Texas was reported to have lost 5.6 million urban trees due to last summer’s drought. Now, the U.S. Forest Service reports that the tree canopy in many other cities are similarly under stress.
In 17 of the 20 cities analyzed, tree cover declined, while impervious cover such as pavement and concrete increased in 16 of the 20. The cities experiencing the highest percentage of lost tree cover were Houston, Albuquerque and New Orleans. One city, Syracuse, New York, experienced a slight increase in existing tree cover, but that was due largely to the spread of the invasive European buckthorn.
Overall, existing tree cover in U.S. cities is declining by about 0.9 percent annually, and it comes at a cost. According to Forest Service estimates, urban trees provide a benefit worth three times the cost of tree care. Communities do not want to lose these benefits, which include reduced heating and cooling costs and improved storm water management, on top of the less quantifiable boost to quality of life.
There is some good news, however. The Forest Service study also showed that active tree planting and maintenance efforts are already making a difference. Said Forest researcher David Nowak: “Tree cover loss would be higher if not for the tree planting efforts cities have undertaken in the past several years.”
To reverse the trend, continued tree planting and more active and comprehensive efforts to sustain urban tree canopies will be required.
Saving urban trees will take a lot of work, but thousands of communities – particularly the 3,462 currently designed as a Tree City USA – have already shown they are up to the task.
Photo credit: TreesAtlanta, via the U.S. Forest Service.