It’s costing our cities $500 million a year to lose trees

Major cities like New York, Philadelphia and Chicago have been working hard to reduce the number of trees it takes to maintain a healthy environment, but the situation isn’t improving quickly enough for many green-minded citizens.

Washington, D.C., ranked No. 19 in a list of the top 25 cities most aggressively planting and maintaining trees, down from No. 12 last year, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Many cities have made progress in greening their community landscape over the past decade, though, with Portland, Ore., being the latest city to unveil its newly finished Green Street initiative.

But a loss of nearly 300,000 trees in D.C. could mean losing $500 million a year in national and state tax revenue, the NRDC reports. In New York, officials estimate that the city’s loss of the trees would add almost $2 billion to its annual budget.

And despite the relatively quick recovery in sea levels — 70 percent, on average, since the end of the last ice age — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts the loss of forests and grasslands could add up to the same amount of ocean acidification by 2100 as it did between 1950 and 2008.

The growing trend of invasive species, which are spreading faster than previously anticipated, could also play a role in undermining the ecosystems that are already diminished, the NRDC writes. In the past half-century, around 90 percent of sawmill jobs worldwide have disappeared, in the process bringing the number of jobs in timber-related jobs in the United States down to less than 40,000.

But it’s not just the economy that stands to lose from the ongoing declining numbers of trees in our cities. Our natural systems — including our allergy defenses, protective biodiversity and ecological carbon sinks — will also suffer from such a loss.

But city governments and others can help ensure the trees remain alive and well. D.C.’s bill, for example, to fund the city’s tree campaign helps to ensure that the costs for maintaining the city’s greenery aren’t passed on to taxpayers. For others, paying trees to live and thrive also has the added benefit of removing hazards that could make the tree a target for vandals or thieves.

Aside from public policy, it can also be helpful to plant trees on public land — at least some, which can be more easily sustain trees than private property owners. That in turn can help create habitats for rare animals and a pleasant oasis for passersby.

“One of the most pressing areas of focus is how to encourage the growth of new trees and their protection from removal and vandalism — another issue that will take urgency and concerted effort by all of us,” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said of the council’s recently completed Green Street initiative.

And as the NRDC continues to keep environmentalists, humanitarians and experts informed about the devastating effects of the droughts, climate change and growing loss of trees, the danger of the growing lack of greenery won’t go away anytime soon.

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