The Urban Forest
What is the Urban Forest?
There are numerous things we encounter in our busy lives that we typically take for granted: Family, friends, health, housing, food on our table, amongst others. All are very important and often under-appreciated until faced with a crisis. When people think of life’s essentials, very few would name the urban forest.
While many people think of street trees when thinking of the urban forest, it is much more than that. If you took a look at an urban area such as Auburn from the air you would see a stunning network of green.
The urban forest is all of the trees and other vegetation in and around a community including trees in home landscapes, school yards, parks, riverbanks, cemeteries, vacant lots, utility rights-of-way, adjacent woodlands and anywhere else trees can grow. Shrubs, flowers, vines, ground covers, grass, and a variety of wild plants and animals also are part of the urban forest. Streets, sidewalks, buildings, utilities, soil, topography and, most importantly, people are also an integral part of the urban forest. The urban forest is, in fact, an ecosystem.
A healthy urban forest is seen as essential to the quality of life of the region. It is an asset that increases in value over time- one that provides service as well as beauty to Placer County residents. Some of the benefits of the urban forest can be measured. The energy saved from decreased heating and cooling costs, the water kept out of treatment plants and the benefits of cleaner air can be quantified. It is estimated that one large residential tree produces $4,000 of net economic benefit over its first fifty years and increases residential resale value by six to nine percent.
Other benefits are less easily measured, but no less valuable. The aesthetic value of the thousands of trees in an urban forest is incalculable. Neighborhoods with trees feel warm and inviting. Trees soften the hard line of cement sidewalks and provide shade for parking lots and protection from wind. Through their spectacular variety of shapes, sizes, colors, flowers and shade patterns, trees also add visual interest.
Quietly, in exchange for a few gallons of water a week, they help mitigate the noise of traffic, remove carbon d ioxide from the atmosphere and trap dust particulates on their leaf surfaces. We use the urban forest for recreation and in turn, it provides habitat for our urban wildlife.
Yet, as important as the urban forest is, it is increasingly at risk. When does the urban forest move from unrecognized and under-appreciated to valued? It’s when the oak woodland you’ve taken for granted near your home is bulldozed to make way for a subdivision of new homes. It’s when fifty-year old trees that you’ve driven by daily are removed to increase a business’ visibility. It’s when your shaded patio becomes sun-baked after disease kills your backyard tree. Or when a nearby hillside starts eroding after the property owner removed the trees.
In the rush to make our communities modern marvels we've fine-tuned nature out of the design process. Rapid land development and unnecessary tree cutting is severely impacting community forest resources that are already weakened by aging, fire, storms and humans.
Management of the urban forest is complex and challenging. A new awareness of urban communities as ecosystems can be achieved through education and community involvement. An initial step is a re-examination of the natural and manmade infrastructure that make up our communities, the ways they interact, and how the urban forest fits in. Only then will we be able to manage our resources in a socially desirable, ecologically and economically possible way, so they can sustain our community for future generations.
International Society of Arborculture