Utah’s shady future

By Patty Henetz
Salt Lake City, UT (April 29, 2008)- Trees are disappearing in the nation’s cities, where for every tree planted four more are cut down to make way for urban development. The little watercolored trees you see on the developers’ plans? Too often, that’s the only life they’ll ever live.

But as understanding and awareness of trees’ role in climate change has grown, so has interest in renewing a healthy tree canopy in metropolitan areas. New organizations, including a “tree bank” developing in Salt Lake City, aim to restore- or create- the type of forests people took for granted in the 19th century, when North America was composed mostly of agrarian societies that have dwindled away nearly to nonexistence.
“Most Americans aren’t aware that we are living in urbanized forests,” said Pepper Provenzano, who founded TreeUtah in 1989 after convincing the Salt Lake City forester not to cut down two 75-year-old ash trees. In the past three months, Provenzano has motivated more than 40 organizations in 26 states and Canada to sign on to his latest endeavor, iTreeBank, which allows anyone to use credit cards to directly donate to the cause and basically buy and plant trees without breaking a sweat.
Studies conducted since the mid-1980s by the nonprofit group American Forests have shown that steady declines in urban-area tree canopies have brought increased costs for air and water quality management and building energy use.
Surveys also found that for every tree planted, four were cut down to make way for new development. To make up the “deficit” in the metropolitan Southwest, American Forests suggests goals of 35 percent tree cover in residential suburbs, 18 percent in central city residential zones and 9 percent in central business districts.
It only makes sense: Besides absorbing soot, creating a sense of community that discourages crime, cooling their surroundings and reducing energy and water costs, trees add 15 to 20 percent to home values, said Provenzano, formerly an editor with The Salt Lake Tribune.
“The second rule of real estate after location, location, location is curb appeal,” he said. “A tree is the only portion of the infrastructure of a city that actually appreciates in value while all of the other infrastructure depreciates.”
iTreeBank’s ultimate goal is to help establish 100 branches within two years and raise $100 million in 10 years. The organization also is seeking corporate sponsorships to defray administrative and bank-card costs, thereby allowing the direct giving to focus on buying and planting trees and teaching people about stewardship.
“Our small towns are radically changing due to population increases. Our focus is trees and urban canopy in urbanized areas where nearly 85 percent of Americans now live,” Provenzano said.
Jeff Ward, the current president of TreeUtah, said the group’s Web site has a link to iTreeBank. The effort hasn’t yet had a huge response, but is attracting donations from people out of state. The bank is set up so anyone nostalgic for their hometowns can search iTreeBank for other tree-planting groups linked to iTreeBank.
The canopy that covers the Wasatch Front valleys owes in large part to LDS Church leader Brigham Young, who told early settlers to plant trees when they built their homes. Even just 20 years ago that original canopy was looking good, Ward said.
But trees have a natural life. People didn’t take care of them properly, or cut them down because they were in the way of change- or even because they just didn’t like to rake leaves.
“It’s cheaper for developers to remove old trees and then plant 1-inch [diameter] trees,” Ward said. But of course, they won’t resemble what was lost for another 30-40 years.
Cities are wising up. When developer Chris Browne and his partners approached South Salt Lake officials with plans to convert an 11-unit apartment building to entry-level condominiums, the city told them they’d have to add landscaping.
Browne searched for help, found TreeUtah and just recently, with the help of volunteers from TreeUtah, NeighborWoods, and teens in the county’s Youth Works program, planted 16 good-sized trees in front of the condos to frame the views of the Wasatch Range. “I’m a fairly green person,” Browne said. “And we wanted trees here.”
Related Resources:
Salt Lake Tribune- Utah’s shady future