Magazine article American Forests

Putting Trees on the Payroll: Here's a Greener Way to Clean Up Air and Water While Putting Your City's Books in the Black

Magazine article American Forests

Putting Trees on the Payroll: Here's a Greener Way to Clean Up Air and Water While Putting Your City's Books in the Black

Article excerpt

Urban forests--the trees and related resources where people live, work, and play--are as old as civilization. People have long appreciated their unique benefits: cooling shade and soothing green. Since 1970, the science and practice of urban forestry has gained credibility as researchers learned about other benefits--for increased property values, as a natural means to a sense of community, and to soften the harsh lines of our buildings and streets.

The U.S. Forest Service had the foresight to include urban forestry in its Cooperative Forestry programs legislation 25 years ago, albeit with minimal funding. In 1990 urban forestry was included in the Farm Bill and funding jumped tenfold. Congress has appropriated money for it ever since.

Clearly Congress recognizes urban trees are worth the investment. Conservative calculations done by AMERICAN FORESTS On the value of urban tree cover for reducing stormwater problems and improving air quality show that the trees in our cities are worth more than $400 billion.

It's hard to imagine any resource more valuable than the land where we live and the natural resources it holds. Satellite images show naturally tree-covered parts of the country are losing that canopy--it's declined about 30 percent in 25 years--while urban areas have expanded by about 20 percent during the same period.

It's time to turn this trend around. The urban forest is an ecological resource with an economic value. Invest wisely, and it can yield big payoffs. Most U.S. cities have huge budgets, of which urban forestry constitutes a small part; but, those dollars can be leveraged into tremendous values. The big bonus is cleaner air and water for the more than 80 percent of Americans who live in urban areas.

Trees are now recognized as assets by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which regulates environmental health, and the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB), a nonprofit that sets state and local government accounting practices. …

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