Community tree planting

A group of volunteers helps plant 175 trees as part of the RNeighbors community tree-planting event April 27, 2019, in the Eastwood Hills Southeast neighborhood in Rochester. (Post Bulletin file photo)

Rochester’s Committee on Urban Design and Environment is looking for public input to draft a city tree preservation ordinance.

Trees in an urban environment provide multiple benefits — economically, environmentally, in public health and mental health.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Sustainable Urban Forest guide, cities in forested states would benefit from a 40% to 60% tree canopy.

Currently, Rochester has a tree canopy coverage of about 27%. That might also be on the high side once the final toll of the emerald ash borer beetle is tallied.

CUDE’s ordinance draft calls for a 40% minimum canopy coverage for new and existing developments but won’t affect individual homeowners. The ordinance isn’t just a requirement to plant more trees. In order to include trees in development plans, city planners and developers will need to consider their development plans and how much impervious pavement is laid, and consider long-term land-use plans.

The CUDE survey cites a slightly outdated Society of American Forests guideline recommending a minimum 40% canopy coverage.

The updated guidelines do suggest that 40% to 60% canopy is achievable in forested areas, but the report stresses that how it’s achieved is the most important factor, not just the size or percentage of canopy.

A canopy of 40% coverage that consists of a significant amount of buckthorn trees and shrubs or other invasive species is no good for the area. Diversity is also key to help prevent single pests or diseases from significantly hurting canopy coverage the way emerald ash borer has in recent years or Dutch elm disease before that.

Policies that encourage preserving and planting trees will benefit the city.

As Greenspace has pointed out before, trees offer significant measurable benefits to cities, as well as benefits that aren’t so easy to measure. Broadly speaking, people living in tree-dense areas fare better in quality of life, mental health and financial health.

Trees can reduce air-conditioning use by up to 30%, according to the U.N. Urban Forestry office. Trees increase property values by up to 20%. One large tree can absorb up to 330 pounds of carbon dioxide a year and filter airborne pollutants. Coming off a record-setting year of precipitation, it’s worth noting that trees absorb, slow and filter rainwater.

2015 study in Toronto found that people living in areas of the city with more than 10 trees per block had health perception comparable to people seven years younger or making $10,000 more per year.

The CUDE proposal is a ways from being put before city council, but the time to weigh in and ask questions is now. Make like the Lorax and speak for the trees.

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