Trees as Biotechnology to Improve the Environment

Institutionalizing urban forestry as a ‘biotechnology’ to improve environmental quality.
Dr. David Nowak, USDA Forest Service
Urbanization concentrates people, materials, and energy into relatively small geographical areas to facilitate the functioning of society. Urbanization often degrades local and regional environmental quality as natural landscapes are replaced with anthropogenic materials. Byproducts of urbanization (eg., heat combustion, and chemical emissions) affect the health of the local and regional landscapes, as well as the health of the people who reside, visit and/or work in and around urban areas.


In the lower 48 United States, the percent of land classified as urban increased from 2.5% in 1990 to 3.1% in 2000 (44,834 km2), an area about the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined. Patterns of urban expansion reveal that increased growth rates are likely in the future (Nowak et. al., 2005 a,b). Urban land is projected to increase from 3.1 % in 2000 to 8.1 % in 2050, an area (392,000 km’) greater than the size of Montana. By 2050, four states (Rhode Island, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Connecticut) are projected to be more than half urban land (Nowak and Walton,2005).
Urban forests can improve environmental quality in urban areas. The types and magnitude of these improvements need to be accurately quantified. If vegetation effects are demonstrated to improve environmental quality, then programs/regulations designed to improve environmental quality can and should consider incorporating urban vegetation as a means to meeting established quality goals. Establishment of urban forestry programs to meet environmental quality standards can be a cost-effective “biotechnological” means to meet multiple standards (e.g., air and water quality, greenhouse gas emission reduction) as trees provide multiple benefits for a singular cost.
Related Resources:

Institutionalizing urban forestry as a ‘biotechnology’ to improve environmental quality. (complete paper)
Dr. David Nowak, USDA Forest Service, 2006
Incorporating Emerging and Voluntary Measures in a State Implementation Plan (SIP).
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2006
Urban Forest Effects Model (UFORE).
Urban Forestry and Watershed Protection.