Saturday, March 23, 2013

Hugging my neighborhood trees

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“Someone’s sitting in the shade today, because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”  Warren Buffett

I live in an older neighborhood; many of the original houses were built in the 1950s.  As is often the case in older neighborhoods, many folks are buying the older houses, knocking them down, and building newer, bigger homes.  No problem – I like new shiny things just as much as the next guy and some of theseDSC_0015 houses are really beautiful and very energy efficient.  Here’s what I don’t like – I don’t like it when builders are allowed to knock down every tree on the property prior to building.  Since our neighborhood is older, this process means we’re removing trees that could be 50 years old or older.  When we look at the pros and cons of tree removal and planting younger trees, the cons very much outweigh the pros:

Pros for removing old trees and planting younger ones:
  1. Younger trees take up more CO2 as they grow.  This pro is countered by the stored carbon released when the older trees are cut down and burned or otherwise disposed of.
Cons for removing old trees and planting younger ones:
  1. Aesthetically, it’s just not attractive -- Our neighborhood is becoming a patchwork of large houses surrounded by little trees.  As my kids would say, it looks like a Lego display built from two different sized kits.
  2. Soil erosion -- Big, old trees have big root systems.  Little trees have little root systems.  Big trees hold soil in place better than little trees.  Soil runoff is a huge issue in urban and suburban areas, because sedimentation (mud in the water) and phosphorous pollution (phosphorous attaches itself to soil particles) very negatively impact waterways across the country – in my area it greatly impacts the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
  3. Decreased bird diversity -- As mentioned in a previous post, the presence of rarer birds has been shown to raise housing sale prices.  You’ll find more bird diversity in older, mixed stands of trees (Farmer 2011).  Remove the trees, decrease property values.
  4. Increased energy costs -- Shade trees reduce energy costs (estimated at $25 – $30/per year/per tree) (Little 2009).   Remove the trees, pay higher energy bills.
  5. Decreased local air quality -- Trees help to improve urban air quality by sequestering carbon, reducing urban heat island effects, and even trapping pollutants on their leaves.  (Leung et. al. 2011)  Remove the trees, deal with decreased urban air quality.
If you’re thinking about building a new home, consider building around the existing trees as much as possible.  I know it can be done, because it was done in my parents’ neighborhood.  If you’re a citizen concerned about quality of life in your neighborhood, be sure to let your elected officials know that you support protecting trees during the building process.  And then go give your big, old trees a great big hug.

Farmer, M.C., M.C. Wallace, and M. Shiroya.  2011.  “Bird diversity indicates ecological value in urban home prices.”  Urban Ecosystems doi:  10.1007/s11252-011-0209-0.
Leung, D.Y.C, and J.K.Y. Tsui, C. Feng, Y. Wing-Kin, L.L.P. Vrijmoed, L. Chun-Ho.  2011.  “Effects of Urban Vegetation on Urban Air Quality” Landscape Research, April 2011, vol. 36, issue 2.  pp. 173-188.
Little, J.B.  2009.  “Where Money Grows on Trees.”  American Forests, Spring 2009, vol. 115, issue 1.  pp. 43-45.


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