NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 2, 2005

From the wooded Northwest to the lush Southeast, the tree canopy of urban areas has declined because of development, bad weather, tree disease and inadequate tree maintenance, says USA Today. But cities are starting to treat trees like public utilities, since they can now calculate how much money they save by cutting air pollution, storm runoff and energy costs.

Recent studies found an average 30 percent drop in natural forest cover in major metropolitan areas over the past three decades. In response, more cities have adopted or toughened ordinances that protect trees, require them to be a part of development and provide incentives for homeowners to plant them, says USA Today.

The financial benefits of a "green infrastructure" include:

  • Clean air by filtering pollutants and producing oxygen.
  • A reduction in the need for huge storm-water systems that prevent rain from washing oil, auto coolant, pesticides and other chemicals into rives and lakes.
  • Lower energy costs by providing shade and cooling the air; two trees can save a person $55 a year in air conditioning bills.

Specifically in Roanoke, Va., a 25 percent increase in trees could save the city $27,965 a year in storm water control, says USA Today.

  • In 2003, the city set a goal of reaching 40 percent tree canopy in 10 years; that's a 25 percent increase, or 188,000 more trees.
  • The tree budget went from $10,000 to its current rate of $60,000 in 2003.
  • Tree protection and planting is being encouraged by changes in landscape regulations, and state and federal agencies, land trusts and activists are encouraging residents to plant more trees and protect existing ones.
  • Additionally, the city has launched a commemorative tree program.

Source: Haya El Nasser, "Some cities are finding money does grow on trees," USA Today, July 28, 2005; and Haya El Nasser, "Barren cities turn over a new leaf," USA Today, July 28, 2005.

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