Indy must establish roots for good tree policy

Indianapolis Star
By Tony Steinhardt and David Forsell
Indianapolis (February 18, 2007)- Keep Indianapolis Beautiful Inc. is deeply concerned about our city’s continuing loss of trees. According to research by Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, between 1962 and 1993, Indianapolis lost 25 percent of its tree cover. And among all trees we’re losing, those designated as “high-quality” forests are disappearing at the rate of 30 acres per year, according to Indy Parks Land Stewardship research.


Starting small: Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson and students from IPS School 14 marked Arbor Day last April by planting a tree as part of the NeighborWoods project, which aims to plant 100,000 trees by 2016.- Robert Scheer / The Star
One such high-quality forest is the land north of 38th Street owned by Crown Hill Cemetery. As the community considers proposed developments, it’s important to understand the ecological benefits of trees.
KIB used an inventory of roughly one-half of the property’s trees (2,700 trees with trunks eight inches wide or larger), and I-Tree, a peer-reviewed software research tool developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Annually, these 2,700 trees intercept as much as 5 million gallons of storm water and 7,000 pounds of air pollutants, and sequester 1 million pounds of carbon. The analysis reports the value of these services to taxpayers is as much as $400,000 each year; the replacement value of the trees: $3.9 million. (See www.kibi.org for a summary of this research.)
Perhaps the most startling realization is the effort it would take to replace these trees. Hypothetically, if each of the 2,700 trees was removed from the property, it would take KIB, its partners and volunteers six years to plant an equivalent number of “trunk inches” through our NeighborWoods program.
This community values trees. Major local companies, prominent local foundations and philanthropists and hundreds of individual donors and volunteers are supporting NeighborWoods. This program, announced by Mayor Bart Peterson and Sen. Richard Lugar in 2006, is a partnership with the city of Indianapolis to plant 100,000 trees by 2016. Keep Indianapolis Beautiful already has requests from civic and neighborhood groups to plant 2,000 NeighborWoods trees in 2007.
We need to keep planting trees; but Indianapolis also needs policies that better protect the trees we have, and policies that ensure the replacement of trees we lose. Under existing ordinances, not a single tree needs to be replaced should any development occur on any property. At least the developer of the Crown Hill property in initial plans incorporates preservation of trees and wetlands.
This debate wouldn’t be taking place, though, if stronger protections of trees and natural spaces were in place. Current policies have not kept pace with our community’s growing appreciation for its natural environment. Mayor Peterson has appointed an independent tree board to provide policy recommendations, hopefully by year end.
Surely, by working with our entire community, from environmentalists to developers, we can encourage better public policy to protect our valuable natural assets.
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