Help Protect the Endangered City Forest: Plant a Tree!

Getting ready to plant a fruitless olive tree so I don't have to stare
at my backyard neighbor's second-floor balcony all day.

Several months ago I walked into my local library and saw some young people sitting at a table with a giant "Free Trees" sign. We had recently purchased a home and for the first time in many years were in a position to change our own landscaping. So I wandered over with my three little kids in tow and started asking questions. The table was set up by Our City Forest, an organization dedicated to increasing the number of trees in my metropolitan area.

Our Endangered City Forest

Through this organization, I learned some disheartening facts about trees in cities:
  • Large American cities are losing trees four times as fast as they can be replanted.
  • Between 90 million and 100 million trees must be planted each year over the next decade to develop and maintain America’s urban forest.
  • The average life of a street tree in America is as little as 8 years, compared with 40 years or more for trees removed from urban stresses.
  • The number of trees per person in the U.S. has declined by 13% during the past 9 years.
  • One million acres of forest are lost to American city growth each year.
  • California's urban forests are becoming shorter because cities are planting more short-statured trees; as the urban forest is downsized, many of the ecological benefits that large trees provide will be diminished or lost. 

The Benefits of Trees

Why should you care about your city's forest? Because trees are important assets that provide all kinds of invaluable services and benefits to cities and communities. Most of us know that trees do a great job of absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen. But trees do far more than that. Trees also reduce air pollution, cool cities 3 to 10 degrees, save homeowners 10 to 50 percent on heating and cooling costs, increase property values, provide habitat for plants and animals, and provide people with a connection to nature. Click here to read more about the virtues of trees.

We Planted a Tree!

We didn't end up qualifying for Our City Forest's free tree program (made possible through a government grant for a certain section of the county), but we did end up making extensive use of Our City Forest's resources. We had an arborist from Our City Forest come to our home and advise us on what tree to plant and in what location. By carefully selecting the proper tree and location, you can avoid disrupting utilities or sidewalks, tree death, and other expensive mistakes. In addition, we were also looking for a tree that would:
  • grow quickly and provide a screen so that I wouldn't feel like our backyard neighbor's were looking into my backyard all day from their second story balcony (this was a primary motivation for planting a tree -- see photo above)
  • provide some good shade for our backyard
  • require minimal maintenance

With the arborist's help, we settled on a fruitless olive, which has no fruit (sorry, birdies) and loses minimal leaves, has a full canopy year-round, grows quickly, and requires no watering once established. We purchased our fruitless olive tree from Our City Forest's nursery. They delivered the tree, provided a stake and mulch to put around the base, and provided video instructions on planting the tree correctly and written instructions on tree watering and maintenance. I don't think we would have taken on planting a tree without this organization's assistance. Now we are considering planting another tree in our front yard near the street.

An average of 80 percent of U.S. trees in cities live on private property, so it's up to individual property owners not just the government to protect and promote the urban forest. I feel so good about our decision to add a tree to our city's forest. I consider it one of the best "green" things I have ever done.

I plan to take a photo of my kids with the tree every year
on the anniversary of our tree planting.

What can you do to protect and build your city's forest? 

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  1. What a great organization, but so sad to hear the news of tree loss in urban areas! Kudos to you for partaking in the fight (and easing that eye sore as well!). We fell in love with our current neighborhood partly because it's older with, you guessed it, large, well-established trees. Love them - and the birds that come with! :-)

    1. There are some fabulous old street trees on our block as well -- but not in my front yard, sadly! Sometimes we sit on the neighbor's front lawn in the shade of their big oak tree on a hot day. I'm so glad these organizations are working to change this troubling trend of urban deforestation. We need trees!

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