Why is protecting our urban forest important?
Our urban forest provides a multitude of environmental benefits including: improving air quality, water quality, and soil quality; reducing storm water runoff, erosion, sedimentation, and flooding; providing shade, evaporative cooling, and a diversity of habitats for wildlife and pollinators; reducing ambient air temperature as much as 10-40 degrees in the summer months.
Our urban forest provides a multitude of social and public health benefits that include: reducing heat-related illnesses; reducing illnesses such as asthma, attention deficit disorder, and obesity; reducing the length of hospital stays; reducing noise pollution; reducing stress, and reducing exposure to harmful UV rays.
What are the specific economic benefits of our urban forest?
Our urban forest provides a multitude of economic benefits including: improving retail and tourist environments; increasing property values; decreasing storm water treatment costs; reducing energy consumption and electricity costs.
Our urban forest sequesters 65,000 tons of carbon each year, valued at $3,000,000 per year, and reduces storm water runoff by 18 million gallons a year, along with providing shading and evaporative cooling, strongly contributing to Asheville’s energy transition goals and climate resilience
Have there been studies done to validate these values and threats to our urban forest?
A 2019 Urban Tree Canopy Study commissioned by the City of Asheville and the Urban Forestry Commission provided the following points:
The city of Asheville's urban tree canopy is an essential community asset, providing numerous environmental, economic and social benefits
Over a ten-year study period, Asheville experienced a 6.4 percent tree canopy loss, or nearly 1,000 acres of trees
One of many factors contributing to tree canopy loss is growth and development associated with that growth
In the face of tree canopy loss, Asheville should increase tree protection efforts through ordinance review and establishing tree protection measures, specification and mitigation requirements
In addition to downtown, many areas with the least tree canopy include neighborhoods with the most at-risk and disadvantaged residents
The disparity in tree canopy coverage between more affluent and less affluent communities creates an environmental justice issue for the City of Asheville
Asheville’s Urban Forestry Commission engaged a NASA Develop Team to conduct a study on the impact of the “heat Island effect” in 2019. The study revealed the disproportionate impact of the heat island effect, with areas of Asheville with less tree canopy - often at risk, disadvantaged or otherwise marginalized communities - having elevated surface temperatures of 10 degrees higher than more affluent and “leafy” areas of Asheville.
This study shows the cost of NOT addressing this canopy loss is growing. Those cost, most significant to Asheville, include the increase in storm water runoff, (costing the city $1,600,000); the loss of carbon storage ($6,850,000), and the decrease in air pollution removal ($23,500). What this study didn’t calculate are the subsequent increases in health-related costs and mortality associated urban heat island and increased air pollution, nor did it put a value on the decreases in water quality.
What immediate steps can be taken to stop this canopy loss?
It is critically important for Asheville to reverse this trend. This city that prides itself on being a Tree City USA and acknowledges the need to correct the history of social and environmental injustice.
Does the adoption of the Tree Canopy Protection Ordinance amendment completely solve the problem?
The Tree Protection Amendment does not achieve a zero net tree canopy loss, but it is an important first step in reversing the city's tree canopy loss. City officials have given a verbal commitment to establishing a Zero Net Canopy Policy. To that end, the Urban Forestry Commission will submit a Zero net Canopy Loss resolution to the City Council, for a vote, to complement the Tree Protection Amendment. This resolution promotes an array of policies, management strategies, partnerships, and programs to protect and enhance our urban forest.