Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

'Trees Are the Lungs of Our City'; Satellite Images of Jacksonville's Tree Canopy Will Let City Planners Get an Overall Picture

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

'Trees Are the Lungs of Our City'; Satellite Images of Jacksonville's Tree Canopy Will Let City Planners Get an Overall Picture

Article excerpt

Byline: Jessie-Lynne Kerr, The Times-Union

By the end of the summer, there will be an accurate picture available of how many trees have been lost in Duval County to development and how healthy and widespread those remaining are.

A $120,000 study called an Urban Ecosystem Analysis, which uses high-tech satellite images from NASA, was started in May by American Forests. It is expected to be completed by the end of August, said Gary Moll, senior vice president of American Forests' Urban Forest Center.

American Forest, headquartered in Washington, is the nation's oldest conservation organization.

In addition to being noted for their beauty, as in Joyce Kilmer's poem, trees are recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency as air and water cleaners.

Trees sequester carbon dioxide and remove air pollutants. They reduce storm-water runoff by slowing the flow, thereby preventing flooding, and increase the amount that seeps into the ground, recharging the Floridan aquifer from which we get our drinking water.

Trees provide shade, reduce energy costs, increase real estate values, improve the scenery and provide homes for wildlife. Cities often get hotter in summer than their suburbs because of the lack of trees. They are not called concrete jungles without reason.

"I believe very strongly that trees are the lungs of our city," said Jeff Meyer, who operates the Historic Tree Nursery in Jacksonville and has been a moving force for the study. "And we need to know if our overall tree canopy is increasing or decreasing. This study will tell us the value of our canopy in dollars and cents. There's a saying that if you can't measure it, you can't manage it."

Meyer said he has been trying to get a study of Jacksonville's tree canopy using satellite images for years. "I finally got the right information in front of the right people."

Susan Wiles, Mayor John Peyton's chief of special initiatives and communications, said the city is paying its $60,000 share from an annual fund for matching state and federal grants.

"The mayor feels this is useful and very worthwhile," Wiles said. "This is motherhood and apple pie."

In addition to getting the study, the city will purchase and have workers trained on software that will evaluate the canopy on a continuing basis.

"We will be able to spot disease, places where for some reason we are deforesting the county," Wiles said. "And the very fact that we will have this will allow us to access other grants for forestry and tree-related uses."

The other half of the money is coming from the Florida Division of Forestry.

"It's a good step for a community the size of Jacksonville to get a handle on its tree canopy," said Tom Gilpin, urban forestry program coordinator for the forestry division. …

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