Nine billion dollars. That’s a lot of money. Way more than the recent powerball lottery. As residents of Dallas we live in the company of 14.7 million trees valued at $9 billion for their economic and ecologic benefits. That’s a lot of trees… or is it?
Why are these trees valued so high and what is their importance besides looking pretty?
Thinking back to biology 101, trees provide us with our most valuable resource, oxygen. This fact alone should prove their importance especially in Dallas which ranked #8 on the American Lung Association’s Most Polluted Cities (2014). Trees go beyond the obvious oxygen producers to provide several other benefits such as:
- Improve soil quality – decrease erosion, add organic material
- Improve air quality – absorbing pollutants such as carbon dioxide
- Increase property values – in some estimates up to 20 percent
- Decrease energy costs and save you $$ – shade in the summer and wind break in the winter
- Accelerate the healing process – Scientific studies have shown patients in hospitals who have plants in their room, a window with a nature view or ornamental garden reduced recovery time after medical procedures.
- Nature soothes, relaxes us, makes us happy. Studies such as one done in the UK on over 10,000 participants found, “Our analyses suggest that people are happier when living in urban areas with greater amounts of green space.”
- Reduce urban heat island effect – In Dallas we live in an urban heat island. In simple terms, the sun heats our concrete and that hot energy has no where to go causing temperature rises. I like to call it the “oven”. Buildings and roads heat up quickly with little circulation to dissipate the heat. Trees can reduce this urban heat island by shading areas, dissipating heat through evaporation and increasing air movement.
Most of our city (35 percent) is covered with buildings, roads and cement. The USDA Forest Service recommends overall tree canopy coverage (space covered by tree growth) to be about 40 percent for metropolitan areas. Here’s where Dallas falls short. Dallas’ average tree canopy is about 29 percent.
It turns out, we need more trees. The Texas Trees Foundation (texastrees.org) gathered about 130 diverse people from city council members, corporate builders, energy producers and nonprofit executives this past Thursday to announce their goal of adding three million trees to our urban forest by 2022. But they aren’t just planting anywhere. Their strategy is based on a research report due out this week titled The State of the Dallas Urban Forest. The report is a culmination of sampling combined with previous reports to create a base to proactively make management decisions regarding the health of our urban forest. This study will allow the Texas Trees Foundation to plant in their motto, “Right tree, right place, right way” to maximize the benefit of each tree to our community.
By now in reading this article you may be thinking of a big concern in Texas. Drought. How can we plant trees if we are in a drought? I asked this question to the Texas Trees Foundation Director of Operations and Urban Forester, Matt Grubisich. “Just because we’re in a drought, doesn’t mean that’s when you stop planting trees, that’s when you actually want to start planting trees. When you look at the overall water usage it takes to get a tree established it pales in comparison to turf (grass).” Not only that, a lot of our native trees, if they are established and healthy, can sustain periods of drought.
As Texas Trees Foundation moves forward you can plan on more trees in our community areas such as the medical mile, Dallas schools, Downtown Dallas and spreading to our neighbors through parks and trails. You can get involved at texastrees.org, register your own tree through their Tree Tracker program or get your local community together to sponsor tree planting in your neighborhood.
Mayor Mike Rawlings kicked off the breakfast last Thursday with his own tree story as a young boy asking us to reflect on our own, urging, “We all have a tree story.” All I could remember was being shunned out of my brothers “boys only” tree fort only to be left swinging down below on the tree swing. Our tree stories may vary from person to person but trees themselves are more important now than ever in our lives.
As seen in the Katy Trail Weekly.