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Street Trees: More than Meets the Eye

2014 January 17

By Marguerite Huber

Tree-lined street

There is more to street trees than meets the eye.

Ever since I took an urban forestry course in graduate school, I can’t help but always look at trees. I look at their bark, their roots, and their leaves. But when I look at trees, I am not just seeing their physical attributes. I also see all the conceptual benefits they provide to our communities.

Trees are not just a pretty fixture in your backyard. They provide many ecosystem services to our cities and towns, including: improving air quality, absorbing and storing carbon, supplying privacy, reducing noise, increasing property value, and decreasing building energy use. Trees are an important aspect of the green infrastructure that helps reduce storm water flow.

Amazingly, you don’t have to be an arborist to calculate tree benefits; you can use i-Tree, a USDA Forest Service model that uses sampling data to estimate street tree benefits.

In the fall of 2013, EPA scientists began research on “street trees” (trees growing in the public right-of-way, usually in between the street and the sidewalk) in nine communities in the Cincinnati, Ohio metropolitan area. The randomly selected communities all differ in geographic setting, socioeconomic characteristics, and street tree management practices.

Their research aims to answer such questions as: Can street tree structure and benefits be explained by management practices, socioeconomic conditions, or historical or geographic factors? How might invasive pests affect street trees and their benefits? How will existing street tree structure and benefits change in the future under various scenarios of tree growth and mortality, management practices, and pest outbreaks?

Researchers sampled more than 53 miles of street right-of-way along more than 600 street segments and inventoried nearly 3,000 trees. The street tree benefits were estimated using i-Tree Streets.

At this time researchers are still analyzing street tree benefits and their relation to community characteristics such as management practices, socioeconomics, and geographic setting. So far they have found management practices to be particularly important, with Tree City USA participants gaining greater benefits than communities that do not participate. Since analyses are still continuing, the findings on the other community characteristics will be released in the coming months.

When the project is completed, the researchers will have deliverables such as street tree inventory data that can be shared with community officials and an understanding of which community characteristics influence street tree structure and ecosystem services.

I invite you to check out i-Tree for yourself; I suspect as you’ll realize there are more to street trees than meets the eye.

About the Author: Marguerite Huber is a Student Contractor with EPA’s Science Communications Team.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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3 Responses leave one →
  1. Bouchakour permalink
    January 17, 2014

    Hi everyone,
    I’m always amazed every time you put the IT in the service of the environment.
    i_tree the system provides excellent extension of the interest of trees and their conservations
    Congratulations and proud of you

  2. electra27 permalink
    January 18, 2014

    We love trees in New York City and want them to help us improve our environment. What I wish all would realize is that a tree is a living thing that requires work to keep it living.
    Last summer was quite dry and I saw the evidence of dehydration on trees and that others died. I don’t think that business and residential managers are required to water these street trees, so I was worried that even established trees might not survive. Newly planted trees had water bags, but I don’t know how long till they are on their own too. The climate forecast is for more extremes in weather, both dry spells and downpours, not conducive to most non-desert type trees. We are planting and expecting trees to be part of our defense to climate change, but unless the city or the residents are stewards of the trees, they will not last. The trees have so much they are up against, salt and other pollutants to mention just a few. The manager of my building won’t even allow me to water the tree with a hose because he is afraid someone will sue if they trip on the hose, so I am left to carry buckets of water out. How many people would be willing to do that? We need people to adopt and care for the street trees for them to survive and benefit us.

  3. Robert M. Alvey permalink
    January 21, 2014

    An informative article! On Long Island, I began a small grass roots program to use a 9 acre suburban stormwater storage basin as a bird sanctuary in 1995. It later became a full environmental center and an arboretum in cooperation with Nassau County and the Village of Garden City. The importance of trees cannot be understated as they have distinct benefits to the community as well as the wildlife. When Hurricane Sandy destroyed over 600 street trees in the community, we have been working to select and replant with alternate species that are more sustainable with climate change. Garden city is already a “Tree City” and we are supporting efforts to gain that distinction for Nassau County.

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