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Friday, March 12, 2010

Value of the Urban Forest

Why do we care about trees in our city?
President Theodore Roosevelt said “To exist as a nation, to prosper as a state, and to live as a people, we must have trees.”

 Shoreline is getting down to the work of tackling this question.
The City is working on a process of creating a city Tree Ordinance.

There are of course many, many reasons why we care about trees in our City.  For instance, beauty and quality of life, fresh air, water quality, erosion prevention, shade, wildlife habitat and even "food" (fruit trees).

Interesting Fact about Trees: Up to 50% of the precipitation that falls on forests (especially conifers) never reaches the ground.  (Forestry - An International Journal of Forestry Research)

A series of information meetings are underway including one upcoming:

Wednesday, March 24
6:30 - 8:30 p.m.
Richmond Beach Congregational Church
1512 Northwest 195th St

Urban trees and forestry is also being studied on a statewide level. Two years ago the State House and Senate passed the Evergreen Communities Bill. The work of helping communities create better Urban Forestry is now undertaken by the DNR (Department of Natural Resources).  Urban Forestry expert Sarah Foster recently spoke at a meeting of Sustainable Shoreline Education Association and gave an overview of the values of urban trees and how we can benefit from improving our forestry practices.

This conversation is just being started and the Shoreline Planning Commission will hold hearings in several months and the community will be very involved.

Below are some of those values as presented by Seattle Urban Nature (which is now merged with Earthcorps).

Urban forests

Value of urban forests
Urban forests provide a variety of ecosystem services that are invaluable to the community. Some of these include:
  • Cleaner air due to the filtration of pollutants such as dust and soot
  • Absorption of greenhouse gases to help combat global climate change
  • Retention of stormwater runoff and reduction of erosion
  • Reduction of city noise as tree canopies intercept sound waves
  • Habitat for animals and native plants
  • Increased adjacent residential property values by up to 15%
  • Recreational opportunities and relief from the built environment
Why are we so concerned with the condition of our urban forests?
Prior to European settlement in the Puget Sound region, the Seattle area was home to an extensive conifer forest, host to mighty Douglas firs, Western red cedars and many other species. When these forests were clearcut by settlers over a century ago, both the seed source and the large decomposed logs necessary for these conifer trees to reproduce disappeared. Today, almost 80% of our forests are deciduous (composed of trees such as red alder and big-leaf maple) and the majestic conifer forests have disappeared. In addition, settlers brought with them horticultural plants from Europe and Asia, some of which have escaped cultivation and are now running rampant in our forests. These species such as English ivy and Himalayan blackberry do not have natural predators or the harsh climate of their home countries. They have found Seattle to be a very hospitable home and are pushing out the native plants and animals that have evolved here over the past 10,000 years.
In 1999-2000, Seattle Urban Nature mapped the vegetation and wildlife habitat on approximately 8,000 acres of Seattle's public land. One of the findings from the survey was that 47% of all public forests in Seattle have a greater than 50% cover of invasive plants. The data from the survey served as a wake-up call to the Parks Department and the citizenry of Seattle. Many community groups are undertaking restoration efforts to save the urban forests, and the city has used the collected data to create the Green Seattle Partnership, an effort to restore all the parks in the city. To learn more about results of the 1999-2000 survey, please visit our background page.
What can you do?
The data from the 1999-2000 survey is now available to the public for free on our Interactive Habitat Map. Please visit the map to learn about local parks and greenspaces in your neighborhood and the types of habitats found there.
Many volunteers and organizations throughout Seattle have offered their time and energy to help restore our urban forests. To join forces with these groups, or become a steward of your local park or open space, visit the following websites to find out when the next volunteer event is happening in a park or urban forest near you. It's a wonderful opportunity to meet neighbors, learn about native plants, get a workout and see how satisfying it can be to contribute to the greater good:

  • Remove invasive plant species such as English Ivy, Himalayan Blackberry, Scotch Broom, Field Bindweed, English Holly, etc. To find out exactly how to remove the aforementioned invasive plant species, visit

  • Plant natives including trees, shrubs, and herbaceous species in order to establish a multi-aged canopy of trees and a forest floor that can provide habitat for a diversity of native insects and wildlife. To learn about native plant alternatives, Check with WA Native Plant Society.

  • Return to your restoration site throughout the year(s) to remove any invasive plants that have re-sprouted, and assess the survival rate of your newly planted native plants in the event that some may need to be replaced.

  • Photo Credit: Janet Way

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