Group works to overcome dwindling urban forests
The Washington, D.C.-based conservation group American Forests has issued a wake-up call. Healthy cities, it says, should have a tree canopy coverage of 40 percent to ensure their ecological, economic and social sustainability.
The organization’s study, “State of Our Urban Forest,” assessed urban forests in Atlanta, Baltimore, Milwaukee and Austin, Texas, and found that average tree coverage ranged from just 18 percent in Milwaukee to 34 percent in Austin. The report estimated the nation’s urban forests are worth at least $400 billion in terms of stormwater management alone, and they represent value in terms of air and water quality, energy conservation and wildlife habitat.
The topic of tree coverage was discussed extensively in the Cities by Nature’s Design conference held in Atlanta last September. During the conference, U.S. Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck announced his agency will undertake a two-year pilot test to establish a national coordinator for urban natural resources stewardship. The USFS also plans to increase support of regional centers that coordinate assistance to urban dwellers.
The “State of Our Urban Forest” study revealed that urban areas are expanding at an estimated 2 million acres per year. The study estimated that the benefits of existing tree cover – capturing and filtering harmful air pollutants and slowing and reducing stormwater runoff – were worth $31 million in Baltimore, $15 million in Atlanta and $11 million in Milwaukee.
“The dollar benefits provided by trees are huge,” says Deborah Gangloff, American Forests executive director. “Our findings show that municipal decision-makers have a tremendous opportunity to incorporate this natural capital into the urban planning process.”
Gangloff and other officials at the Atlanta conference urged local governments to participate in Global ReLeaf 2000, American Forests’ education and action campaign to plant 20 million trees for the new millennium. The campaign unites individuals, organizations, agencies and corporations in tree planting and caring for trees. For more information about Global ReLeaf 200, call American Forests, (202) 667-3300; or visit its web site, www.amfor.org.