Made in the Shade

An appropriate tree canopy can make money for businesses and communities

Does money grow on trees? If they are the right trees in the right place, it could happen. Research by Dr. Kathy Wolf at the University of Washington indicates that shoppers in downtown business districts that have many large, well-maintained trees are willing to pay more for parking, stay longer in shops, have a better perception of the quality of merchandise – and are willing to pay 9 percent to 12 percent more for goods and services.

Restoring the trees
As downtown retailers face increasing competition from large retailers, regional malls and the Internet, the city of Vancouver is attempting to cash in on the positive benefits of urban forest with their Canopy Restoration Program.

"We’ve lost almost half our tree canopy in less than 30 years," said Ryan Durocher, Urban Forestry Outreach Coordinator at the Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation department.

Durocher attributes the loss of trees in Vancouver to new development, natural attrition and private property tree removal. In 2003, Vancouver measured its "canopy cover" at 19.7 percent – a far cry from the average 46 percent for the region measured in 1972 by the American Forests organization.

The Canopy Restoration Program encourages individuals and businesses to sponsor tree planting, with a goal of restoring Vancouver’s canopy cover to 28 percent. In January, the city of Vancouver partnered with Friends of Trees, a non-profit tree advocacy group, and Hewlett-Packard to plant 75 new trees on the western HP property line at Southeast 176th Avenue.

Durocher’s department helped choose the tree type and placement, while Friends of Trees organized the planting. HP purchased the trees, and TruGreen LandCare donated the labor to dig the planting holes.

According to a report produced by the Center for Urban Forest Research in Davis, Calif., the Pacific Northwest realizes at least $2.50 in benefits for every dollar spent on tree planting and maintenance. That means that HP’s 75 new trees will produce about $100,000 in benefits over the next 40 years.

"It was a minimum investment for us to make with respect to how we wanted to be viewed in the community," said Robyn Walker, real estate and workplace services site manager at HP’s Vancouver site.

On Arbor Day in April, the East Vancouver Business Association donated about $450 to purchase a Coast Redwood which was planted at the Firstenburg Community Center and will serve as the Christmas tree for East Vancouver. The Clark County Association of Realtors (CCAR) also participated by serving refreshments at the Arbor Day event.

"Trees and shrubbery in a city soften the appearance of buildings and promotes the value of property," said David "Sandy" Hendrick, CCAR association executive.

Vancouver isn’t the only Clark County city concerned about the loss of trees. Anita Ashton, with the Public Works Department in Camas, stated that Camas was in the preliminary stages of creating a tree preservation ordinance that would offer incentives to developers to retain trees in new subdivisions. Also, Ashton said the city of Camas buys significant amounts of open space as a means of tree preservation, such as along Forest Home Road and west of Brady Road, now owning 613 acres.

The cost-benefit analysis
According to a 2002 study, the annual dollar value of a mature tree ranges from $1 for a small trees to $53 for a large tree. Average annual costs per tree, which include purchase of tree, planting, irrigation, pruning, pest and disease control, cleanup, liability and legal, infrastructure repair and tree removal, range from $9 to $23. Overall, large trees provide the best deal. It takes about 40 years for a large tree to maximize its benefits to the community.

By example, 22 percent of Longview’s 12,000 trees are red oak, Norway maple and purple-leaf plum. The total benefits of these trees exceed costs by about $23,300, or $8.63 a tree. Longview offsets some of its urban forest cost by turning 85 percent of its wood waste into saleable mulch, firewood and lumber, and recycling the remainder at a cost of $12 a ton – less than half of the average landfill fee of $28 a ton.

John Buttrell, whose firm Arborscape Ltd. Inc. performs arborist services for the city of Vancouver, said Vancouver is doing much better than a lot of other nearby communities in its urban forestry efforts.

"I expect Vancouver to be written up nationally for some of the things it is doing," said Buttrell, citing Vancouver’s planting projects that exhibit "excellent tree choices" and their desire to use native tree species whenever possible.

Putting the right tree in the right place

One of the biggest mistakes people make when planting a tree, said John Buttrell, is choosing the wrong tree. Buttrell works for Arborscape Ltd., which holds the contract for Vancouver’s Canopy Restoration Program.

"Do some extensive research," recommended Buttrell, "and look at mature trees of that species."

He said two commonly planted varieties of trees – sweet gums and London Planes, a type of sycamore, are some of the worst choices for urban landscapes, because of their messiness and growth habits. Whatever tree you choose, he said, should need minimal pruning, be pest-resistant and have growth habits that match its location.

Generally, merchants in downtown business districts are concerned with trees interfering with visibility of signs and shop windows, damaging power lines, sewers and sidewalks, and shedding messy leaves, limbs and flowers. These concerns can be offset by careful choice of tree species. A business district can maximize the benefits of an urban forest by having a streetscape improvement plan that includes the entire business district.

Wherever Vancouver’s Urban Forestry Division has planted trees, said Outreach Coordinator Ryan Durocher, there are three goals: to plant a great diversity of trees, including native species where appropriate, to plant long-lived and pest-resistant species to reduce future maintenance costs and to plant a good mix of large and small, deciduous and evergreen and flowering and shade trees since each type of tree provides a slightly different blend of benefits. They also make sure the trees don’t conflict with other issues, such as trail use in parks, utilities and visibility. One example of a large replanting project that meets these goals is Diamond Park, whose planting plan was designed by local landscape architect, David Sacamano of Illahee Group.

Buttrell also said that sometimes how trees are planted is as important as what variety is planted. The traditional straight boulevard of trees, for example, is not always the right choice, because if one tree dies, it may be hard to replace it with an exact match that doesn’t spoil the symmetry. Instead, many plantings could be better done with asymmetry and mixed varieties, creating a true "forest" that is easier to maintain; if one dies, simply remove it and let the other trees grow into the space.

Measuring the benefits

Annually, one mature tree can:
• intercept 760 gallons of rainfall (a value of $13 million in Vancouver)
• produce 260 pounds of oxygen and sequesters 100 pounds of carbon dioxide
• absorb 10 pounds of airborne pollutants (a value of $78 million in Vancouver)

Many trees can:
• reduce ambient noise levels by one half
• reduce energy bills by as much as 40 percent (assuming trees are properly sited)
• increase property values by as much as 3.5 to 6 percent
• help provide an appealing landscape and lifestyle, which helps with business recruitment and relocation