“The net cooling effect of a young, healthy tree is equivalent to ten room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.”—U.S. Department of Agriculture
Seattle’s urban forests are in trouble. In 1972, trees covered 40 percent of the city’s land area. Today, thirty-four years later, 18 percent of those trees remain.
Trees are an important first line of defense against a host of environmental problems. In fact, Jared Diamond lists deforestation as one of the twelve environmental factor which ignored can leave to societal collapse. Trees provide nature with the tools to help manage storm water run-off, reduce erosion, trap the green house gas CO2, and produce oxygen.
In an ambitious effort to renew Seattle’s forests, Seattle’s Mayor Greg Nickles announced a plan to address the loss of the city’s trees. The press release from the mayor’s office states:
The plan aims to reverse the trend by establishing aggressive goals, such as:
- Adding nearly 650,000 trees over 30 years on property in all land use categories.
- Increasing pruning frequency of city-maintained trees from every 19 years to a cycle of every 13 years.
- Creating a long-term program to educate residents about the ecological and economic importance of trees. Residential trees today account for 42 percent of the city’s total canopy.
- Devising incentives and regulations that encourage tree preservation and planting.
- Coordinating tree management across multiple city departments with tree maintenance responsibility (Parks, Transportation, City Light, Seattle Public Utilities), including a comprehensive inventory and analysis of the urban forest.
- Creating citizen-government-business partnerships to bring additional financial, volunteer labor and management resources to the tree-restoration fight.
According to the National Wildlife Federation, “There are about 60-to 200- million spaces along our city streets where trees could be planted. This translates to the potential to absorb 33 million more tons of CO2 every year, and saving $4 billion in energy costs."
Local leaders like Mayor Nickels are stepping up to fill the void created by the federal government’s lack of leadership in the fight against global warming. In 2005, Mr. Nickels initiated the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement which asked mayors from around the country to pledge to reduce their city’s production of carbon dioxide to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. So far, 295 mayors have taken the pledge with the combined impact of representing over 49.4 million Americans. Check to see if your city is on the list.