Money might not grow on trees. But researchers at a think tank devoted to saving America’s forests say dollar signs can be attached to all those oaks, maples, and sycamores. They’re hoping their environmental calculus can help convince local governments that it’s in their best interest to protect the trees they still have, and to plant new ones.
The GLRC’s Sarah Hulett reports:
Money might not grow on trees. But researchers at a think tank devoted to saving
America’s forests say dollar signs can be attached to all those oaks, maples, and
sycamores. They’re hoping their environmental calculus can help convince local
governments that it’s in their best interest to protect the trees they still have, and to plant
new ones. The GLRC’s Sarah Hulett reports:
If trees could unionize, they’d be able to put together a pretty compelling case for hefty
compensation packages from the cities where they work. That’s the general idea behind a
series of reports put together by the advocacy group American Forests. The organization
looked at the amount of tree-covered land in several US cities and for each city, it put
together a dollars-and-cents case for their protection.
Trees in Detroit got a recent appraisal from the group. Trees shade more than 31 percent
of the city. Besides helping to keep the city cool, the report says Detroit’s trees take out
two million pounds of pollution out the air every year. That’s worth about five
million dollars. And it said if the city’s trees were gone, the city would have to build 400
million dollars worth of storm water drains. That’s because trees act as buffers during
heavy rains, and help control flooding.
Cheryl Kollin is the Director of Urban Forestry at American Forests. She says the bottom
line for politicians and city planners is money. She says they’re not going to save trees
just because they’re nice to look at:
“And I think it’s really building that awareness that trees — as wonderful and beautiful as
they are for their aesthetic qualities — it’s so important to connect the ecological
properties that they have and the economic benefits they provide. Because it really is going to
be that economic argument that makes decision-makers do things differently.”
Like a lot of cities, Detroit relies on a non-profit group to raise money for urban
reforesting. Today, the Greening of Detroit is planting trees around a recreation center in
one of the most polluted areas of the city, where diesel soot from heavy truck traffic
contributes to a high asthma rate.
Rebecca Salminen-Witt is the director of the Greening. She says this is a critical time for
this struggling rust belt city:
“We want to see some development in Detroit. We want to prove to outsiders that good things are
happening here in a visual way. Any development is good development, right? And, you know, that
is simply not true.”
Witt says as the city seeks to rebound, the focus can’t just be on new buildings. She says
it’s important that planners and developers figure trees and green space into Detroit’s
future and she says the American Forests’ economic data and satellite images will help
her make that case:
“Having those statistics, and having that visual representation of this is what it looks, you know, here’s your
heat island effect with trees and without trees.”
That visual picture of tree loss proved especially powerful in the nation’s capital.
American Forests surveyed Washington, D.C.’s trees in 1999. Its report said the city lost
nearly two-thirds of its tree cover between 1985 and 1997.
The Washington Post published the before-and-after satellite photos. They showed huge
swaths of black gobbling up what a dozen years earlier looked green from far above the
earth. It looked like a cancer had wiped out the healthy parts of the city whose slogan is
the “city of trees.”
“That got the attention of a variety of people. One person in particular was Betty Casey.”
That’s Dan Smith of the Casey Tree Endowment Fund. The group was established thanks
to a 50 million dollar contribution from Betty Casey, the widow of developer Eugene B.
“And I believe the contribution was if not the largest gift ever for environmental action,
certainly one of the largest.”
That sort of cash gift is a dream for most cities. But the Greening of Detroit’s Rebecca
Salminen-Witt says she does expect to be able to use the information from American
Forests to raise money. And she says it will also help her small organization figure out
which parts of the city are the most in need of trees:
“We have to decide where we’re going to allocate our resources. And having a tool that makes
allocation of resources in an area where there’s a great need easier, or make more sense, is
really important to a non-profit organization.”
Witt says her first pitch will be to the corporations and civic leaders planning a
redevelopment along Detroit’s riverfront. Witt says the plans she’s seen call for some
trees and green space. But armed with satellite pictures and economic data, she hopes
she’ll be able to make the case for a few more trees.
For the GLRC, I’m Sarah Hulett.