trees

Street Trees: More than Meets the Eye

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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A Gift That Keeps On Giving

By Lina Younes

I’ve always been fascinated with the change of seasons. I marvel at how the bare branches of seemingly lifeless trees and bushes come to life overnight. It’s part of the beauty of nature that never ceases to amaze me.


Just recently I was looking at my garden’s revival. While the garden itself will definitely need some attention in the coming weeks, there is still a natural beauty even in its current status. That’s how I focused on the tree that my father, youngest daughter and I planted on Earth Day six years ago. The ornamental pear tree that was barely four feet high has grown to more than fifteen feet tall. It stands tall, healthy, and proud in my garden.

I believe that tree-planting is a great way to instill in children the value of protecting our environment. The process of selecting the tree, preparing the soil, planting the tree, watering it regularly and watching it grow and thrive is a unique experience that benefits all involved. Furthermore, as the tree begins to grow, it also provides shade and improves air quality. Basically, it’s a gift that keeps on giving.

Even today, as I look at my tree I relive those memories. I still have the vivid images in my mind of the intergenerational experience of seeing my father, my youngest daughter and I working in the garden. I look at my garden and see many of the flowering plants that he helped me plant. He has always loved gardening. Even as he no longer has the agility to do some gardening in the same manner he did many years ago, he still enjoys it. Together, we still can share the experience.

Are you planning to do some gardening around your home this weekend? I’m including some tips that may help you keep your garden waste-free.  Do you have any tips you would like to share with us? We always like to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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New York City Re-blooms

By Bonnie Bellow

With New York City street trees in full bloom, I can’t help thinking about my street tree, the one that went down with an unceremonious thud on the night of Hurricane Sandy. For more than 15 years, I have looked out the third floor windows of my Upper West Side apartment and marked the change of seasons by the leaves on that tree. I was awakened many a morning by the chirping of the motley crew of urban birds that sheltered in its branches. Now all that’s left is a monument to that scruffy tree – a stump in a small square of dirt cut out of the sidewalk, framed by a rod iron fence the height of a small dog.

The loss of one tree is really nothing compared to the people who died that terrible night and the vast destruction across the region. But it is something when you realize it was one of an estimated 10,000 New York City street trees toppled by the storm and thousands more in city parks, woodlands and backyards across the city. Trees are critical to making New York City livable. The shade they provide keeps city streets and buildings cooler, making us more comfortable outdoors and reducing the need to use as much energy for air conditioning. Reduced energy use translates directly into improved air quality and lower greenhouse gas emissions. Trees also remove pollutants from the air, absorb and filter stormwater, reduce noise and just make the city more beautiful.

Now that my tree is gone, I look out on the brick façade of the school across the street. The sun is already streaming unfiltered through the windows, turning my apartment into a hothouse and forcing me to pull down my shades even during the spring. I can only imagine my electric bill this summer when I need to use my air conditioner. I will probably even miss the noisy insects that took up residence in that tree every July.

With the coming of spring, people in our area are starting to rebuild after losses to Hurricane Sandy much more serious than a tree. But sometimes in a disaster, it’s the small things that touch our hearts. I look down my street and see all the trees that survived the storm, some with broken limbs, but still popping with blooms. It gives me hope that sooner or later, a new tree will be growing in that empty patch of dirt and New York City will recover as it always does.

About the Author: Bonnie Bellow has been the Region 2 Director of Public Affairs since 1995, responsible for intergovernmental, media and international relations; community engagement; environmental education; Freedom of Information Act requests; social media and public information. She previously served as Public Affairs Director at the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, ran her own media production business and worked as a radio reporter. Bonnie received her Bachelor of Science degree at Northwestern University in Chicago, but is a born and bred New Yorker who lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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I Speak for the Trees…and the Stormwater

By Jenny Molloy

Most people have a vague recollection, perhaps from a brief fourth grade poetry unit, of the opening lines to Joyce Kilmer’s poem Trees: “I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.” Less well remembered is Kilmer’s characterization of a tree as one “who intimately lives with rain.”

An often overlooked fact about trees is that they also do a great job of preventing and reducing stormwater runoff.  Depending on the type of tree and the intensity of rain events, trees can intercept as much as 30% of total annual rainfall before it even reaches the ground.

When precipitation does reach the ground, trees’ extensive root systems drink it up. The transpiration rates of trees (or how much water evaporates from the trees) vary notably, but some of the thirstier species can transpire dozens or even hundreds of gallons per day.

That adds up. A New York City study estimated that one tree reduces stormwater runoff by 13,000 gallons per year. That means the 500,000 existing trees in the city reduce runoff by 6.5 billion gallons per year, and 300,000 new trees could remove another 3.9 billion gallons from the overburdened NYC sewer systems.

In Washington, D.C. a similar study estimated that simply using larger tree boxes could reduce annual stormwater runoff by 23 million gallons, and that increasing the use of trees could provide reductions of 269 million gallons per year.

Trees also provide other benefits: shading and cooling that ultimately provide energy savings; carbon sequestration; wildlife habitat; enhanced property values; air quality improvements; community health and safety. And of course, as Kilmer noted, there are aesthetic advantages as well.

Example output from the National Tree Benefit Calculator

Example output from the National Tree Benefit Calculator

Communities who do the math now see trees as a win-win in wet weather management. While trees require capital investment and maintenance, compared to other stormwater controls (which are costly to build and maintain but don’t provide benefits beyond stormwater), trees are often an obvious component of the solution.

The U.S. Forest Service public domain i-Tree family of tools now provides now standard approaches to quantifying the benefits. So for municipal planners, utility managers, regulators and anyone else with a role in controlling the consequences of wet weather, trees no longer need be considered supplemental or boutique elements. They are on the A-list of options.

You too can estimate the value of that oak or poplar in your yard with the National Tree Benefit Calculator: Enter your zip code, choose from a drop-down list of over 200 species, enter the tree diameter and voila! The calculator provides an estimate of overall annual value in dollars, and also breaks that down into specific benefits: stormwater, property value, electricity, natural gas, air quality and carbon dioxide.

Which brings to mind another childhood standard: Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, an allegory illustrating not only the multiple benefits of trees, but also conveying that with a little care those benefits can be realized for a very long time.

Jenny Molloy has been working in Clean Water Act wet weather programs at the state and federal level for nearly 20 years, and has been at EPA for the last 9. She was EPA’s first Green Infrastructure coordinator, and just completed a 2-1/2 year detail to Region III and the Chesapeake Bay Program Office focusing on the stormwater permitting program. She’s an active member of her son’s high school band program just so she can fulfill a life-long dream of being able to say “I’m with the band”.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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A Green Rest Area

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

By Lina Younes

Haga clic en la imagen para unirse a la conversación en nuestro blog en español… ¡No olvide de suscribirse!

This past weekend I was walking around Allen Pond Park in the City of Bowie enjoying the beautiful autumnal day. During my walk, I was admiring the migratory birds that had stopped along their yearly trek to warmer surroundings. There were many in the pond, flying, bathing, eating and the like. Luckily, around the Bowie area we have plenty of trees, waterways, and settings that are welcoming to birds and nature’s creatures.

While a visit to a park is a great way to connect with nature in an urban area, you can actually create an environment in your own garden that can be equally inviting to birds and pollinators all year round.  You can achieve this objective through greenscaping techniques that integrate pest management practices and planting native shrubs and trees that will be inviting for birds and wildlife through the seasons.

Certain evergreen shrubs and trees will produce small fruits during the fall at a time when migratory birds in the Northern Hemisphere are starting their journey south. While other flowering plants and trees will produce needed food for birds, pollinators and other wildlife during the spring and summer months.

By planting a variety of native annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees, you will have plants that will provide food and shelter to birds and wildlife for their basic needs. I’m including a GreenScapes Seasonal Planner that may help you to incorporate greenscaping practices into your lawn and garden care. Basically, let nature do the work!

Have you seen any interesting birds in your area lately? As always, we love to hear from you. Feel free to share ideas. To share photos using Flickr you could participate in our photographic State of the Environment project.  We would love to see them.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Earth Day

student

Every year, Earth Day is presented in our classrooms as a project and this year my class picked a theme for the entire school.

We thought long and hard about the project and what we could do to make an impact. We thought about recycling, cutting back waste, and using less energy.   Then the idea came to me. What about tree planting?  When I looked out the classroom windows, all I saw was pavement. There was pavement everywhere –the school yard, playground, sidewalks, and roads.  I could only see a handful of trees.  It only makes sense to be just to the environment by making it more GREEN.

Did you know trees should cover at least 40% of city land, but many times all we have is pavement for roads and sidewalks? It’s great to play ball on, but what about fresh air or shade during a hot summer day? Trees help fight off emissions from dirty car exhaust and shade trees save energy by cooling down open spaces.

Trees are as important to human beings as food and water are. They keep the city air cool and clean. They provide oxygen and help us conserve resources.  They keep rainwater from running off the land so that it saturates the earth. They also help control floods and hold soil in place, especially when it is dry.

So this year, we’ll be planting 10 trees for Earth Day near our school campus, which were donated by some of the town’s community council.

trees

What about you? What does Earth Day mean to you?

Danny is a soon to be freshman in one of Peachtree City’s schools. He’s an awesome soccer player and loves driving around the family golf cart.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Air Pollution: A Tale of Two Polluted Cities

By Asif Khan

I was born and raised in Dhaka, one of the most polluted cities in the world. I did not realize how polluted until I moved to New York City.  When I first stepped out of JFK Airport, about a decade ago, I was surprised by the different quality of the air.

Smog Over Dhaka (Image via Wikipedia.com)

Dhaka is the overpopulated capital city of Bangladesh where air pollution, along with water pollution, is a vital cause of premature death. Hostile air quality is causing respiratory, pulmonary and neurological illness. This megalopolis with over 16 million people, does not have enough trees. Most of the residents of this industrial and commercial city are lacking knowledge about environmental impacts, and so they are not concerned about pollution. To increase environmental awareness, the government of Bangladesh has initiated various programs and projects, and have been motivating people to “go green” for more than two decades. I can still remember one of their common slogans I heard when I was in primary school, “Plant two trees if you cut one.”

Although, comparatively, NYC’s air quality is much better, it has many environmental issues, too. I did not realize how polluted this city is until I started to work at EPA. Now that I am learning about NYC’s environmental issues, I know that the air quality of this mega city is not as good as I had previously thought. I have learned that air pollution in NYC is the cause of an estimated 6% of annual deaths, not to mention other serious health complications.

A snapshot that depicts air pollution in NYC

I strongly believe that we’ve been doing a great job over the years to reduce pollution. However, we have to amplify environmental awareness by educating, motivating and governing people ceaselessly, just like they are trying to do in Bangladesh. Like the slogan I mentioned above, I think NYC also needs more trees and needs to be greener.  I believe NYC’s Million Trees program of planting One million trees will help to fill this need. However, to me, “going green” activities should not be limited to just planting more trees. There are so many other cautious steps we can take to prevent air pollution, and I’m hopeful that both New York City and Dhaka will take advantage of other sustainability options as well.

About the Author: Asif Khan serves as an accountant out of EPA’s Manhattan office. He is currently completing his MBA in General Management and he holds a BBA degree in accounting. His leisure time activities include painting and writing poetry.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Our Trip To The Christmas Tree Farm

By Amy Miller

We went to buy our Christmas tree last weekend. We couldn’t remember where that one cut- your-own place was, we weren’t sure if that other cut-your-own place was still in business and anyway, we really didn’t have much time for a sentimental ritual in between Benjamin’s basketball game and our friends’ progressive dinner.

So we settled on a 20-mile drive to get to the place two miles from our house. At Riverside Farms, you can walk through rows of trees arranged by size; pick your own shape and pay. Then a strong young man will tie the tree on your car for you.

At mile 8, though, as we were cruising Lebanon Road, we passed an irresistibly homemade sign – “Cut Your Own Christmas Tree.” So we took a U-y and the country road to the dirt drive to the weathered older gentleman sitting in his pick-up. Yes, he had rope and yes, we could use the saw in the nearby bucket. Head down there and chop, he pointed.

Benjamin wanted big. Lane is getting older (as in teenager) and doesn’t really care anymore. “Whatever,” she said, “let’s go, I’m cold.” We picked a biggish, wide-ish tree and sorta kinda tied it on.

At home, we found our white strand was dead and every third bulb on the colored ones was out. We did the unthinkable – we mixed little colored lights that blink with big colored lights that don’t. And it worked. Our 2011 tree was up.

I would have been just as happy to lace lights around a Charlie Brown tree from our backwoods, but my family will have none of it.

As it happens, 21 percent of us get real trees, and 98 percent of those are from tree farms. Sixteen percent of us “real Christmas Tree consumers” cut our own. And according to the University of Illinois, citing the US Census of Agriculture and the National Christmas Tree Association, about 48 percent of us had fake trees and 32 percent had none.

All told, about 30 to 35 million real Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. yearly. More than 90 percent of these are recycled and two seedlings are planted for every tree sold. One acre typically holds 2,000 trees and provides the oxygen18 people need in one day.

When I’m buying my tree I think of none of this, though. I think about how I love to sit by a fire in a room lighted only by the Christmas tree.

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The New Teen Scene: Leaf Looking!

(c) JVick 2010

(c) JVick 2010

You hear a lot about kids and teens not spending enough time outdoors these days. Teens are constantly “plugged-in” texting and staring at the TV all afternoon, etc. I know when I was growing up we played both outside and inside. This past weekend I was incredibly pleased to see a ton of teens out “leaf looking” at the base of Pikes Peak.

Here in the mountains of Colorado, you always see the “leaf lookers” come out every fall to see the beautiful colors of the changing trees. We always giggle a bit because they are usually older and drive REALLY slow through the mountain roads.

But this year, I was amazed to see how many kids, especially teens, were out enjoying the beautiful fall colors. Teens were running, laughing, taking photos on their phones and sending them to their friends. Nature and texting DO mix!

I think teens and parents hear a lot about getting outside more. I worry it becomes a “to-do-list item” instead of an enjoyable, repeatable experience. So, in my view, let the kids play video games, tweet and text, but balance it out with fun outdoor family or group activities – like going to a favorite hiking trail and seeing all the great fall colors. Make it an annual family event!

About the author: Wendy Dew has been with EPA for 13 years and is the Environmental Education and Outreach Coordinator for Region 8.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Don’t Ever Buy a House With Trees in the Yard!

By Nancy Grundahl, Region 3 – Philadelphia

That’s what my cousin told his daughter who was searching for a house to buy.

His rather practical reasons were:

  • Trees are expensive to get cut down when they get old.
  • Unless they are evergreen you’ll need to rake leaves in the fall.
  • Tree roots can damage your foundation and patio.
  • Limbs can fall on and damage your house or cars.

I didn’t know what to say, but it was clear that there was a big discrepancy between my relationship with the natural environment and his. Funny, I thought, since we are about the same age. But, then I realized our childhoods were quite different. I was brought up with a woods and a creek behind my house where I played every day. And, there was a field next door with corn, strawberries, asparagus and pumpkins growing. That was my childhood and it continues to define how I think about the environment.

His environment growing up was suburbia, rarely if ever venturing into a more natural setting. It reminded me of a book some of my co-workers with kids were discussing – Last Child in the Woods. In the book, author Richard Louv directly links the lack of nature in the lives of today’s children to rising obesity, attention disorders, and depression in children. My instinctive, non-researched-based guess is that children who don’t play in woods also don’t have the same love and appreciation of trees that children who play in the woods do. Perhaps they aren’t as inclined to believe that trees can improve our environment by moderating climate, improving air quality, reducing flooding, and giving a home to wildlife. And, from a more grown-up point of view, trees around a home usually increase its value.

So, if you have kids and live here within the megalopolis that’s the Washington, D.C. to Boston corridor, as I do, please make a special effort to teach them about the environment in which they live and more undeveloped, natural areas nearby. Teach them why trees and streams and wildlife are important. Find a nature center and drag your kids out of the house. Make sure they smell the wonderful smells of soil and flowers. Point out how with trees and streams around, summer heat is cooler. Feel the difference. Understand the difference. And, understand why having trees in your yard is a good thing.

To learn more about trees, visit the Arbor Day Foundation.

About the Author: Nancy Grundahl has worked for the Philadelphia office of EPA since the mid-80’s. She currently manages the web for the Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division. Before getting involved with the web, she worked as an environmental scientist. Nancy believes in looking at environmental problems in a holistic, multi-media way and is a strong advocate of preventing pollution instead of dealing with it after it has been created.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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