As the nation celebrates National Arbor Day (April 25), 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 foresters manage them well. Street trees are a green infrastructure resource and 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, vibrant tree canopy and the benefits it provides – communities nationwide have enjoyed higher property values, decreased energy costs, cleaner air, and more beautiful environments...all because of trees.
We all have fond memories of traveling along a boulevard lined with grand street trees that formed a welcoming archway of tree canopy above, feeling relief from summer's heat by resting under the cooling shade, and the splendor of autumn color. This time of year, we experience the arrival of spring, the leafing out of our precious street trees, and take comfort in the greening of our community and the joy of the songbird. This benefit of trees – this experience – brings forth pleasurable feelings and emotions, and creates priceless memories.
How remarkable the street tree truly is; we now have decades of reliable scientific evidence that street trees add real value in a myriad of ways. Among their many benefits, street trees help to reduce energy costs, clean our air and water, store carbon, and reduce stormwater runoff.
Before 1976, when Tree City USA was launched by the Arbor Day Foundation on our nation's bicentennial 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 leads us to conclude that larger cities with a professional staff, and smaller towns with a committed volunteer citizen tree board, are able to take a comprehensive approach to municipal tree care.
Forward-looking cities and towns 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. Street trees are part of the public infrastructure, just like roads, sidewalks and bridges. Yet trees – green infrastructure – are the only components of infrastructure that actually appreciates in value.
In New York City, for example, it has been calculated that street trees provide $5.60 in benefits for every dollar spent on planting and care.
And 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 two to five times that investment.
Arbor Day reminds us all to plant, nurture and celebrate trees.
J. Sterling Morton, a Nebraskan and the founder of the first Arbor Day, cared deeply about everyone's role in conserving our precious natural resources.
"Each generation takes the earth as trustees," he said.
The need for effective community tree care and management is today more important than ever due to increased threats of weather extremes, storms, and insects. In this increasingly challenging environment, proper pruning, careful selection and aggressive planting, replacement, and maintenance of our street trees is paramount to the continued success of our nation's community tree canopy.
The care and management of our street trees has proven time and again to be an excellent investment with substantial returns. Investments in our 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 local municipalities to continue to give high priority to critical investments in our community forests.
On this Arbor Day, let's commit ourselves to appreciating the trees for all they give us and our environment by responding to our charge as trustees of the earth. 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 not only by us, but also by our nation's children and grandchildren.
Founder and Chief Executive
Arbor Day Foundation