Unfortunately, city trees just don’t grow and take care of themselves, and growing trees in cities is difficult because of a broad range of urban conditions and human influences. A healthy urban forest requires an investment. The return on that investment is measured as “ecosystem services”. So, the formula for a successful and sustainable urban forest might look like this:
Investment in urban forests (a strategic, planned and implemented approach towards protecting, enhancing canopy, and increasing longevity) = a long lived, healthy urban forest = maximum ecosystem services.
Those most significant to Asheville include the increase in stormwater runoff, (costing the city $1,600,000); the loss of carbon storage ($6,850,000), and the decrease in air pollution removal ($23,500). What this study didn’t calculate are the subsequent increases in health-related costs and mortality associated with urban heat island effect and increased air pollution, nor did it put a value on the decreases in water quality.
Just factoring storm water, air quality, and carbon storage, the city has lost an average of $850,000 in ecosystem services per year, over the ten-year study period. This is the cost of doing nothing!
A 2014 national survey of urban forestry programs in 667 cities, funded by the National Urban and Community Forestry Council, has shown that the national average of community per capita investment in urban forestry is $8.76. Last year the City of Asheville spent only $5.14 per capita, and if you subtract what the city paid for tree removal, brush pickup up, and chipping, the city’s per capita expenditure for tree maintenance is only $1.73. It is no wonder we are losing canopy as such an alarming rate!
The city can reverse this trend of doing nothing by investing in an urban forester and developing a strategic urban forest management plan. The cost of this first step is only a fraction of the ecosystem services losses the city is currently suffering, and will go a long way towards building an environmental return on the taxpayers investment.
Author: Ed Macie, Urban Forester; Chair, Tree Protection Task Force; Board Member, Asheville GreenWorks