Urban Tree Canopy is defined as the “layer of leaves, branches and stems of trees that cover the ground when viewed from above.” This “coverage” is important to define, study and understand because it gives us an understanding of how healthy our urban forest is, and how quickly it is declining. While this may seem to be the problem of ecologists, conservationists, arborists or other scientists, the urban forest is a collective good that benefits everyone. The promotion of a healthy urban forest is essential to prevent the reduction of or decline of our urban canopy coverage.
When you look at canopy coverage holistically, it is clear that all of the trees in your city provide shade, beautification, better air quality, and benefit runoff. It is not just the park trees, street trees and undeveloped areas that contribute to this collective good, but also the trees on your personal property that are critically important to the canopy coverage as a whole.
Owning personal property means balancing your acceptable level of risk with the need to preserve your urban canopy. As individuals, we strive to keep our families safe during storms and high wind events and because of this it’s easy to simply focus on the risk factors of our trees, while ignoring the benefits. If you were to remove all of the trees in your yard, you could potentially impact your energy bills, property value, your stormwater run-off and even your mental health, but there is a tree risk management solution that does not require removing all of your trees.
So how do we balance our personal risk with the need to support and preserve our urban canopy?
The best thing that we can do to maintain healthy urban trees is to work towards having healthy urban soils. Through agriculture and development our soils have been depleted of the vital nutrients necessary for healthy tree life. If we want to have a healthy urban canopy, then we must first have healthy urban soils. Our soils have also been compacted and restricted due to traffic, use, infrastructure, and other external forces.
Our soils are an equally important collective good, necessary to every individual within our community. While our area may have a large urban forest canopy, we do not have a healthy urban soil profile. The top layer of soil that contains the decomposed matter that feeds the plants has been stripped away.
Arborists are trained in the basics of soil science as it relates to the health of living trees and can make recommendations on how to improve the soil on your property. By improving the soil conditions, you can have healthier trees. Healthy trees are less likely to fail during storms or other common weather conditions meaning you can enjoy them and their benefits for many years to come.
We can also work toward an acceptable level of risk without completely removing the trees by regularly maintaining the canopy. Pruning and crown cleaning can help to minimize the risks caused by overextended and dead branches. Trees in the urban forest do not grow with the same structure as trees in the natural forest. They are often not surrounded and shaded by other trees, so they can grow with poor branch structure. This is why your arborist must make selective pruning cuts to correct for the urban growing conditions and ensure your trees thrive.
In partnership with your arborist, you can make informed decisions about caring for your trees and do your part in caring for our urban canopy.
It costs nothing to reach out to your arborist, seek advice for your trees, and to look at them with preservation in mind. Think about your community, the impacts that these trees have on your community as a whole, and make the best decisions for your family with this in mind.