Looking Back: The “Top 10” Tree Stories of 2013

Washington, DC (December 23, 2013) – The big story this year was the growing stack of research showing the clear public health benefits of urban forests. And urban fruit and nut trees officially entered the stage. Trees continued to attract attention for their benefits as a tool for cities looking to address a host of climate change issues—all while building social capital. On the political front, the “shutdown” eventually ended, and by year’s end there was a budget for the Urban & Community Forestry program—but not for long. Finally, American’s planted 50,000 trees in October bringing with them a host of benefits. Here’s our “top 10” stories.

  1. Tree lined streetForest loss means fewer benefits. At the start of the year, the U.S. Forest Service issued its forecasts, trends, and challenges for the next 50 years. What’s ahead? Urban and developed land areas in the U.S. are expected to increase 41% by 2060. Forested areas will be most impacted by this growth, with losses ranging from 16 to 34 million acres in the lower 48 states. This means substantially reduced benefits from forests including clean water, wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, and more.
  2. City park and green spaceUrban trees make for healthier people. The year brought an abundance of new research supporting the many benefits of trees and greenspace to public health. This included lowering the key stress hormone cortisol, reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes, cleaning the air and saving lives, and all the while making us all a lot happier.
  3. Tree trend of the year: urban fruit trees. ACTrees announced the launch of Community Groves℠, a program to improve the health and livability of neighborhoods through planting, maintaining, and harvesting fruit and nut trees. And several cities, including Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Seattle laid the groundwork for large CITY.FRUIT.1urban food forests.
  4. Staying one step ahead of climate change. Urban trees are on the front line of fighting climate change. Forest Service researchers announced that U.S. urban forests sequester 25.6 million tons of carbon every year, at a value of $2 billion. They also store an estimated 643 million ton, at a value of $50+ billion. New research found trees are speeding up their life cycles to keep up with a changing climate. Along with that came a list of the best urban trees for warming cities.
  5. NEW.JERSEY.5Engaging with urban trees builds social capital. Researchers at MIT confirmed the value of engaging the full community when planning and planting urban trees. According to the study, when creating valued public spaces, the “making” has become as important as the “place” in the “placemaking” process.
  6. On the political front—the shut down. The effects of the 16 day shutdown on Forest Service programs were significant. Funds for many programs, including Urban & Community Forestry, were reduced or delayed, forcing projects and activities to be deferred or cut. An end of year budget deal, however, is expected to allow for increased spending in domestic discretionary programs, including programs such as Urban & Community Forestry. Urban tree advocacy continues. Help us take action.
  7. Age trumps youth. Perhaps our most “liked” story highlighted new research that showed densely settled urban neighborhoods should prioritize tree survival over shading potential, as the energy conservation benefits of a mature tree often outweigh the benefits of a strategically planted one. Mature trees were found to significantly reduce energy use.
  8. GreenWorks - Deaverview apartmentsTrees prove good for businesses, homeowners, and renters. An abundance of research this year found that it pays to have trees on your property. Trees and greenspace bring long-term economic benefits to businesses and other commercial properties, directly impacting consumer buying behavior. Trees and parks are also helping realtors sell homes and rent apartments. And late in December, NRDC released The Green Edge: How Commercial Property Investment in Green Infrastructure Creates Value, building a solid case for green over gray.
  9. Trees and greenery a top priority for high-density cities. Urban trees were all over the news this year as a tool for urban landscapers to improve the air, mitigate urban heat islands, manage stormwater, and provide city dwellers pockets of respite from the bustle of urban life. A report from the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives highlights 20 local governments across the U.S. that are taking the initiative to combat global warming, including strategies around urban tree canopies.
  10. NNWM with banner50,000 new trees in October make U.S. cities healthier—and more resilient. Over 26,000 volunteers got their hands dirty during National NeighborWoods® Month 2013, planting 50,000 trees at events in all 50 states. Each year, these trees are estimated to capture 21.4 million gallons of storm water runoff, dispose of over 610 tons of air pollutants, and save cities nearly $500,000 in storm water management and air pollution costs.

What was your top tree story? Share it with us on Facebook or Twitter @alliance4trees. And check out our “top 10” trees stories from 2012.