Research Documents Multiple Threats to Urban Trees

By Deborah Martin and John Rogan, associate professors in the Graduate School of Geography at Clark University, Worcester, MA

Worcester, MA (May 21, 2013) – Research at Clark University in Worcester, MA, where 30,000 trees have been removed since the Asian Longhorn Beetle was found in the area, looked at various aspects of the infestation and responses to it. Their findings cast new light on the ALB situation as it relates to urban forests generally. They warn that while tree loss from ALB is a danger, tree loss due to urban development was double the number of trees removed as a result of ALB infestation.

asian longhorn beetleFindings from the Worcester research, funded through the National Science Foundation, provide a warning that ALB is among the least of our worries when it comes to urban trees. Research found that between 2008 and 2010—when most of the tree cutting occurred—the tree loss due to urban development was actually double the ALB-related tree loss in the quarantine zone.

ALB infestation can have a devastating impact on neighborhoods, depriving them of large, mature shade trees and the many benefits they provide, including absorption of air pollutants, mitigating storm water runoff, and providing much needed shade. But tree loss due to urban development is a more pervasive occurrence, and economic growth may come at the price of significant tree loss.

Researchers found the quantitatively more significant loss due to urban development is ongoing and repeated across the Worcester area and the nation every year. This loss is more than the scale of ALB losses, but hidden because it doesn’t affect a concentrated urban area as does the ALB losses.

Here’s what Deborah Martin and John Rogan, associate professors in the Graduate School of Geography at Clark University in Worcester, say about their research findings in a recent editorial:

“ALB offers a warning for us to be alert to tree loss due to all causes. As we continue to monitor our urban forests for ALB, we should remember that tree losses occur every day as we grow and change our regional land cover. Urban growth need not be as extensive and damaging to tree cover as it typically has been.

“Sustainable urban development asks that we consider and even mitigate the environmental impacts of sprawl. Sprawl sometimes seems like an intractable problem. Its impact on trees means higher energy costs, higher mental health costs, greater incidence of air, water and soil pollution, more flooding and soil erosion. We need to ask hard questions of development and not be blind to its impacts because trees are felled all across the region rather than in one concentrated area as with ALB.

“Our research findings highlight that we need to see and study the urban forest in a comprehensive manner, with action and concern at all levels — from the individual to the neighborhood to our local, regional, and national policy-makers — to mitigate tree losses. If we truly are concerned about our urban trees — and research about their benefits suggests that we should be — then we should ask questions and be vigilant about all threats to our urban trees.”

Source:Trees Under Multiple ThreatsTelegram and Gazette

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