Reforest The Bluegrass

Many people say these days that it is good we had an ice storm-to remind us that we need less trees in the urban landscape-that trees are nothing but clean-up headaches and cause great damage to houses, roads, sidewalks, power lines, utilities, etc.

Well to those folks, I say, "The ice storm has been valuable in one respect-it reminds us that the wrong tree planted in the wrong place can cause great damage. HOWEVER, the right tree planted in the right place will provide many years of economic and ecological benefits to the property owners as well as our neighborhoods."

The famous American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, said it well: "The best friend on Earth of man is the tree. When we use the tree respectfully and economically, we have one of the greatest resources on Earth."

Some people may still murmur, "Ya, we know all about that 'trees are good for us' stuff." So aside from the self-professed experts in tree botany, here are some thoughts for the rest of us:

1) Properly placed trees and shrubs can reduce heating and cooling costs. (If you don't think that is true, for those of you who lost a tree on the south side of your house, wait until you see your air conditioning bill this summer.) And what one tree can do for an individual property owner, an entire urban forest will do the same for a community.

One problem facing cities is a phenomenon called, "The Urban Heat Island Effect." This problem is associated with growing cities where hundreds of acres of grassland or forests are being replaced with rooftops and asphalt. As solar radiation heats those surfaces during the day, it causes the temperatures to rise within the inner-cities and become higher than in the country. In Atlanta, where considerable research has taken place, this problem is causing the temperature to rise 5-9 degrees Fahrenheit/decade in the downtown area. This results in greater air conditioning needs, thus more burning of fossil fuels for power generation which adds to the planetary greenhouse gases. And as temperatures start to rise in the cities, so do health problems among the poor and elderly.

Trees are our allies to fight this problem. Properly placed trees can shade city streets, parking lots, and sidewalks. They cool the air through evaporative cooling. They filter the pollutants out of the air from the burning of fossil fuels. They are truly nature's air conditioners.

2) Properly placed trees and shrubs will enhance the re-sale value of your property. Property values are greatly increased for properties with mature, healthy trees and good landscaping.

3) While those of us in Lexington do not pay a lot for stormwater pollution control at this time, many cities have found that to restore the health of their community streams and reservoirs, that they are having to spend an incredible amount of precious tax dollars to remove pollutants from urban stormwater runoff. Again, in the city of Atlanta, through an aggressive tree planting program, they intend to make use of the tree's natural ability to filter pollutants from urban runoff and reduce flooding. As such, over the next 20 years, they project (via a computer model called City Green) that they will save over $800 million in water pollution and flooding mitigation costs (that is $800 million tax dollars that can either be spent on neighborhood projects or passed along as a savings to the tax payer).

OK, enough about the back-pocket issues, how about what properly planted, properly chosen trees do for our environment:

Filter pollutants from groundwater, and stormwater, and air; filter pollutants from the air;

Sequester Bind-up carbon from the atmosphere and subtract from the overall greenhouse gases;

Provide habitat and food for animals;

Shade streams to eliminate nuisance algae; keep water cool and dissolved oxygen concentrations high.-Healthier streams = mosquito control;

Native trees and shrubs are more resistant to disease and insect infestation and; Native trees and shrubs are better able to withstand the fury of nature's storms; and forests of native trees lining our creeks provide all of the aforementioned benefits, and raise plus increase the quality of life for the entire community.

So while there were extreme hardships caused by the ice storm, it has provided a valuable opportunity to remind everyone that the right tree in the right place is a benefit to all.

And if you still want more information and you are tired of cutting up trees, join us for the 5th Annual Reforest the Bluegrass event this year at Veteran's Park. In Lexington, over the past four years, 3,975 volunteers have worked together to plant 140 acres of new forests with 108,000 trees. This year, we need 1,200 volunteers to assist us with planting the newest creekside forest in Lexington-20,000 trees. To volunteer, contact First LINK of the Bluegrass at 859.313.LINK (313-5465).

H. David Gabbard is a Municipal Environmental Engineer for the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Governmentn