Trees have been a part of people’s lives since the early days of settlement. The early need for wood for homes and tools gave people a reliance on trees. The movement of people across the country did not change that need, and often trees and water were the two important resources for creating populated places.
As the Industrial Revolution and other production gains occurred, the need for wood lessened. People moved farther from the trees to settle and farm. Trees could be brought to people. As populations grew and cities took shape, trees were often planted as an after-thought to have shade and memories of where many people came from. The inclusion of parks and open space gave people a place to go since we had strayed so far from the natural areas. The baby-boomer generation recalls growing up with space to play outdoors and having opportunities to encounter nature. Those opportunities are lost in dense housing and with McMansions on smaller lots that squeeze side yards and back yards, along with less desire to spend the time to maintain property, and mass-production housing projects.
As the tides turned, people moved away from the dense population centers to nearby wildland-urban interfaces (WUI) zones in an attempt to be closer to nature. The lack of management in many forests in and outside of WUIs has led to massive forest fires that have scorched thousands of acres in California. As people in WUIs live closer to the forests, the risk of wildfires affecting people’s homes increases significantly.
The opportunities for people to touch trees and demonstrate the value trees have to humans are present in urban and community forestry, that branch of tree management that grows trees for the benefits to people, not the consumer products the trees provide. The need for nature and recreation in the places where we live is increasingly important for human sanity, stress reduction, and the connection to nature. If we do an excellent job in managing the trees where people live, we can increase the appreciation for the trees in the forests.
The silviculture (the study, cultivation, and management of forest trees) and soil management in populated areas is different from the practices used in natural forests. When large developments are built, the inclusion of trees in the projects has become essential for the project to get approved by the governing agency. Yet the designs and construction practices are so poorly done that the infrastructure conflicts between the trees and site improvements are costing society millions of dollars and causing the premature removal of trees before they reach their mature size and benefit delivery. What people seem to fail to see is that large trees are infrastructure assets that cannot be easily replaced in-kind.
In some cases, the dream home on a tree-lined street will never be achieved with the approved design. There isn’t space for the trees to grow without damaging adjacent improvements. As arborists and urban foresters, we are rarely included in the development process until the site is completely designed and they want to stick the trees into the project that are required for project approval. At that point, it is so late in the process that the task to provide the necessary space for the trees to grow is almost impossible. Without site redesign, soil volume, space for the trees to grow, distance from concrete improvements and utilities, the scenario is similar to the overloaded fuel conditions in natural forests—just a disaster waiting to happen.
As well, there appears to be perceived competition between foresters and urban foresters. As the WUI home invasion continues, there is the need to manage the trees around the developments and the trees in the nearby forests. We both have our places in the natural and man-made systems. As a forestry graduate who ventured into urban forestry because traditional forestry jobs weren’t available at the time I graduated, the trees where people live have more value and impact to people than the natural forests. Both are very important to carbon cycles, climate, and life on earth. More than 80% of American society lives in populated areas. The trees nearby are much more interactive with people than forests. To quote Greg McPherson, supervisory research forester at the US Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station in Davis, CA, “trees in cities are essential for urban life to survive.” He has studied the benefits and services trees provide to people. The i-tree program (available at www.itreetools.org) shows the actual cost benefit relationships of trees to people, and they positively support investing in trees.
The management of the trees where people live can strengthen the appreciation for the benefits and resources all trees provide, while we enjoy the trees in our neighborhoods. The immediate benefits of trees are felt in shade on a hot day. Depending on your local climate, shade can reduce the temperature in the shade by greater than 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and reduce the heat island effect by as much as 50 degrees Fahrenheit. However, if this relationship of growing trees isn’t sustainable, the cost of trees would be too great to afford.
The ability to reduce the heat island effect, improve air quality, sequester carbon, reduce energy use,
Intercept rain fall, and provide livable communities creates an appreciation for trees that can extend to the natural forests. Improving the public’s knowledge about caring for trees can help improve the care, maintenance and longevity of existing trees, increase the planting and growing of new trees, and reduce the spread of invasive pests through actions such as people moving firewood. There are many more people living in cities than visiting forestlands and national parks. The need is to connect with the people at home where they live and extend that connection to both the community and natural forests. People need to become more aware of the urban and community forestry programs in local, state, and federal settings. This recognition of the importance of trees to people can be strengthened where the people live and transitioned into the natural areas where better forest management is needed.
There is a different management approach to growing trees for the benefits to people and growing trees as a natural resource. They both are very important to a healthy and vibrant society and world. The opportunity for communities to appreciate their trees, create the policies and practices to grow better trees, and improve tree longevity is one of the keys to sustainability, while reducing costs and enhancing benefits. There are tree care industry standards (ANSI A300) for tree management that help reduce risk and increase tree longevity. Since the leaves are the part of the tree where the growth and benefits come from, growing larger trees with sustainable crowns and longer lives maximizes benefits and the return on investment. We simply cannot replace a large tree with a newly planted tree, one for one only. All newly planted trees have to become established and grow to develop a leaf canopy large enough to give back benefits. If the site isn’t designed to accommodate a larger tree, just as the tree reaches a size where we are appreciating the shade, the tree may need to be removed due to a damaged competing infrastructure repair. Building the appreciation for the trees where people live everyday will translate into creating the space and site designs to accommodate larger trees, and appreciation for what trees do in our communities and natural areas.
Gordon Mann is the immediate past president of the American Society of Consulting Arborists, a Registered Consulting Arborist, ISA Certified Arborist and Municipal Specialist, TRAQ Qualified Tree Risk Assessor, Certified Urban Forester, and alternate representative for the Society of Municipal Arborists on the ANSI A300 Tree Management Standards Committee.