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Op-Ed: Autumn's Colorful Reminder – The Importance of Investing in our Street Trees

date 10/23/14

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Jeff Salem, Director of Communications & Public Relations,   email

Autumn is upon us. This time of year, we experience the arrival of fall, and we take comfort in the crisp evenings and enjoy the splendor of autumn color. Walking or driving through town is a delight for the senses. This benefit of trees – this experience – provides warm feelings and emotions, and creates fond memories that are priceless.

We all have fond memories of traveling along a boulevard lined with grand street trees that formed a welcoming natural archway of tree canopy above. As the leaves begin to show glorious color, let's pause to ask ourselves: Are we investing enough time and money in our street trees? Street trees – those trees planted between the sidewalk and the road – are perhaps the most valuable city trees, and it is vitally important that local communities manage them well. Street trees are a valuable community asset. The most visible swath of any community forest is its street trees.

We all have experienced a neighborhood with abundant, well cared-for street trees. In these places of resplendent natural beauty, we are calmed, we are refreshed. These positive emotions are brought forth by a healthy tree canopy and the benefits it provides – higher property values, decreased energy costs, cleaner air and water, reduced stormwater runoff, and more beautiful environments...all because of trees.

Before 1976, when Tree City USA was launched by the Arbor Day Foundation with our National Association of State Foresters and U.S. Forest Service partners, community forestry across our nation was haphazard at best. Today, more than 140 million Americans call a Tree City USA home. Our experience growing the Tree City USA program into more than 3,400 communities during the past 40 years leads us to conclude that larger cities with a professional staff, and smaller towns with a qualified, committed volunteer citizen tree board, are able to take an effective, efficient and comprehensive approach to municipal tree care.

Forward-looking communities are taking notice and continuing to make needed investments in tree planting and care. "Given a limited budget, the most effective expenditure of funds to improve a street would probably be on trees," wrote Allan Jacobs, a professor of city and regional planning at the University of California, Berkeley, in his book Great Streets.

Indeed, the value of a dollar invested in street trees is far-reaching. U.S. Forest Service scientists have found that for every dollar spent on planting and caring for a street tree, the benefits that it provides are as much as five times that investment.

The need for effective community tree care and management is more important today than ever due to greater threats of drought, storms, and insects. In this increasingly challenging time, proper pruning, careful selection and proactive planting, replacement, and maintenance of our street trees is paramount to the continued success of our nation's urban and community trees.

The overall care and management of our street trees has proven time and again to be an excellent investment with high returns. Investments in our urban and community forest are worthy of the strong support of our elected and appointed officials, of the community at large, and of each and every one of us. It is to our benefit to encourage our elected and appointed officials across the nation to continue to give high priority to critical investments in our urban and community forests on behalf of our local municipalities.

As we experience the arrival of fall, as the leaves change and we celebrate the joy of bright autumn colors, let's commit ourselves to appreciating the trees for all they give us and to recognizing their importance. Please join me and thousands of others as we continue to encourage appropriate investments of time and money in our communities so that we may plant trees whose benefits will be enjoyed for many seasons to come.

Dan Lambe, president
Arbor Day Foundation


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