The Benefits of the Urban Forest
Sacramento’s urban forest is known worldwide – Here’s why it’s worth protecting
Sacramento is known as the City of Trees for a reason… even if a certain water tower doesn’t say it anymore. MIT’s Treepedia project confirmed it in 2017: Sacramento is the greenest city in the US by a wide margin. Worldwide, we rank third after Vancouver and Singapore. It’s the result of a concerted effort by volunteers and the city government itself to plant more trees, and replace trees that inevitably die off either due to age, disease, or pest infestation.
In addition to just looking nice, our tree canopy has a wide range of benefits. For urban residents, trees can increase the value of a property. A well-maintained tree can make a home more attractive to prospective buyers. And there are important, psychological benefits to a good urban forest. Multiple studies suggest that that contact with nature can reduce violent behavior within inner-city neighborhoods.
There’s a benefit to society, but there’s also a benefit to the planet, one that we would ignore at our own peril.
An Urban Forest Improves Air Quality
There’s no denying that the air quality in industrialized nations has taken a serious hit over the years. Sacramento lays within a valley, where pollutants can collect. In turn, poor air quality can further affect our climate. Hot summers will feel hotter still, and unseasonable weather is a concern that we’re continuing to see affect agriculture.
But we know through extensive research that trees help keep our air clean. Given the growing concerns about climate change, and the factors that are responsible for it, clean air is one way to begin mitigating those factors.
Trees Increase Our Comfort, Without Increasing Power Bills
The psychological effects of the urban forest are continuously proven through research. But the benefits extend beyond that to our homes. Trees help mitigate the “Urban Heat-Island” effect, where our asphalt and concrete absorb and radiate heat that affects our climate. This can make an already blistering summer dangerous, even lethally hot. And when it’s hot, we get inside and stay there, blasting our AC like our lives depend on it. That can get expensive, as some of us have learned to our chagrin.
Homes shaded by trees will not require as much use of that AC, even during the hottest months. If you walk through mid-town Sacramento, you will probably notice just how much shade there is, and how many homes have even partial coverage from a neighboring tree. While we can’t all have trees near our homes overnight, but efforts to plant more trees could lead to a more comfortable future.
Cleaner and Safer Water
Roughly 80 percent of all freshwater in the United States comes from forestland. As climate change, disease, and invasive pests spread throughout the country, those forests are threatened. And that means our freshwater for drinking, farming, and industry is all being threatened.
As for the urban forest, it not only helps keep our air clean, it keeps our water clean. Some trees help clean up pollutants found in our rainwater. Others deal with our soil. In both cases, rain runoff is filtered naturally by our trees.
Trees are also part of the defense against floods that can pollute local water quality. While even Sacramento’s urban forest can’t hold off a direct hit from an atmospheric river, one only needs to look at the flood warnings in Southern California right now. The burn scars of 2017’s wildfires consist of land that has been scoured of trees and other plant life. Trees can anchor soil, and prevent or mitigate mudslides. When large scale destruction like those wildfires have occurred, hillsides are stripped entirely of those natural defenses. And when powerful rainstorms do strike, landslides are all but inevitable.
Your trees are an investment for the future
The urban forest took a very long time to cultivate into what it is today. If you live in the Sacramento area, you can be part of the effort to conserve and expand that investment. Pay attention to your trees, look for signs of distress. Don’t hesitate to call on the help of certified arborists if something is clearly wrong.
While there are obvious dangers, such as a potential treefall on a home or car, there are less obvious threats that will affect future generations. Protecting our air and water quality for tomorrow requires vigilance today.