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Urban Forests - Winter 2014

In this article from Wildflower Magazine, Davey's RJ Laverne talks about the many important benefits urban forests offer.

Posted: Dec. 10, 2014

By Julie Bawden-Davis 

Unlike their rural siblings, urban trees and the forests they fill live much more complex lives. While trees in uninhabited settings do fall prey to pests and diseases, they escape the vagaries of city life, such as soil compaction, smog, encroaching hardscape, power lines, chainsaws and perhaps the worst enemy of all: oversight.

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When people forget about the benefit of urban trees and see them as inanimate objects, they are more likely to be removed. According to a 2012 published study by the U.S. Forest Service in Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, tree coverage in urban areas of the U.S. is declining at a rate of 4 million trees per year, and that is unfortunate and disturbing, says arborist and urban forester R.J. Laverne, manager of education and training for the Davey Tree Expert Company.

“Why would you put up a concrete wall to buffer highway noise when you can create a magnificent urban forest?” asks Laverne. Beyond aesthetics, urban forests offer benefits in three broad areas – environmental, economic and social, and many of the benefits are interconnected.

Urban forests benefit the environment by producing oxygen; cleaning air pollution; providing beneficial, energy-saving shade; stabilizing soil; decreasing erosion; and offering habitat and food for wildlife.

Economic benefits of trees include improved real estate value, cost savings from energy conservation and preventing the need for expensive engineered solutions to manage situations like stormwater runoff. Tools have been developed in recent years to help determine the economic value of trees, such as i-Tree, a software suite designed by the U.S. Forest Service and Davey Tree. According to the Forest Service, the average urban tree can provide as much as $2,500 in environmental services during its lifetime.

Not always straightforward are the social benefits – including physical and mental – of urban forests, which are far-reaching and often surprising.

A body of evidence has shown that exposure to urban forests including parks and green spaces has a positive effect on physical health, says Laverne, who notes that trees encourage physical activity and improve air quality, reducing respiratory and heat-related illness.

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