County is investing in trees

By Cathy Zollo, page BN1
Sarasota, FL (December 1, 2008)- Over the next two years, the county will spend $1.2 million on trees along county roads, and it is not just to make Sarasota pretty. Demetra McBride, the county’s urban forestry program manager, said the effort is more of an investment for the county than a mere sprucing up of its roadways. “Inside the county, we know that we do it for specific reasons and to exploit a number of benefits that trees are able to provide,” she said. Once mature, trees cost $30 to $40 each to maintain each year in return for the millions of dollars in services they collectively provide, studies show.

Some 30-plus projects will plant hundreds of trees along Sarasota County roadways and other areas. The projects- many of them done in conjunction with county roadwork- are small to large and include beautification and canopy roads. Some of the project sites are in North Port, Venice, Gulf Gate and Kensington Park.
Among the fringe benefits of trees is safety. Though no one fully understands why, people drive slower on tree-lined roads, and there are fewer accidents.
The residents of Kensington Park in North Sarasota will get two canopy roads as part of the effort. “We’re hoping the trees will have the same effect without bumps in the road,” said Kathy Jones, second vice president for the Kensington Park Civic Association.
The money for the projects comes out of the additional 1 percent sales tax that county residents approved a year ago. The accelerated pace of the projects comes from another decision from voters in May to allow the county to bond out $300 million of the tax revenue.
A partial inventory of trees along county rights-of-way shows about 50,000 trees in the county’s possession, though that is only the beginning of the count, says Jeff Wilkinson, a county arborist who is working on the inventory. McBride estimates the county has another 300,000 or more in its parks and around government facilities, not including state parks.
The county has planted about 15,000 trees in recent years. The upcoming projects will add thousands to that number, though the exact figure is not yet known. Whatever the number, Sarasota will come out ahead, says Greg McPherson, research forester at the U.S. Forest Service’s Center for Urban Forest Research in Davis, Calif. McPherson says people have an affinity for trees that stretches back to our distant beginnings in forests and later on savannas. “There was safety and protection in trees,” he said. “That’s where we could find refuge. Trees now provide that refuge in a psychological and spiritual way.”
Benefits of Urban Trees
* Air scrubbers: The average shade tree absorbs 13 pounds of carbon dioxide each year through growth and 32 more pounds through photosynthesis. Areas with trees have as much as 40 percent less ground-level, or “bad” ozone than those without. Trees trap diesel and other pollution made up of small particles such as dust, ash, pollen and smoke.
* Air conditioners: NASA’s Urban Heat Island Project found that tree canopies reduce urban temperatures by an average of 8 to 15 degrees. Trees shading the southern and western exposures of a home can reduce energy use by up to one third. About 25 percent of the cooling effect comes from shade. The rest is from a mist trees emit from leaves during photosynthesis.
* Rain and drain: Canopy trees catch about 30 percent of rainfall and redirect the next 30 percent into the ground rather than storm drains. Trees can filter heavy metals and toxins from surface water, ground water and soil. Trees slow water velocity, which slows erosion.
* Economic Development: Increase property values 5 percent to 9 percent. Increase spending by shoppers up to 12 percent. Surveyed shoppers say they expected goods and services to be better in treed shopping areas. Increase rental property value up to 7 percent and reduce vacancy and turnover rates up to 11 percent.
* Reduce accidents. There are 40 percent fewer crashes on tree-lined, pedestrian-friendly roads.
* Calm traffic. Studies show that treescapes reduce vehicle speeds by 3 to 15 mph.
* Increase road life. At least 30 percent of shade on asphalt surfaces makes them last almost twice as long. One linear mile of roadway costs more than $72,000 to resurface.
* Reduce erosion by holding soil in place with their roots.
* Encourages physical activity by reducing temperatures.
* Buffers sun’s UV rays.
* In parking lots, a 30 percent tree canopy reduces the interior temperatures of cars by up to 28 degrees and gas-tank emissions by about 12 percent.
* Studies show that trips along treed thoroughfares seem shorter.
Related Resources:
Herald Tribune- County is investing in trees