Boston’s Urban Forest Coalition Study: Trees Provide Air Quality Benefits
By Jon Seamans
April 10, 2006
Street trees in just three of Boston’s 24 neighborhoods provide more than $12 million of air quality improvement benefits to the city according to a study completed by a new coalition formed to support Boston’s urban forest and educate the public about the health, public safety, environmental, and economic benefits it provides.
“These street trees remove three tons of harmful air pollutants each year, including sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, and ozone that contribute to respiratory and cardiovascular disease,” said Sherri Brokopp of the Urban Ecology Institute and Boston’s Urban Forest Coalition (BUFC). BUFC, whose motto, “Healthy Trees, Healthy People,” is a coalition of non-profit, city, state, and federal organizations working to improve Boston’s urban forest ecosystem and thereby Boston’s public health and quality of life.
“That’s three tons of air pollution that is stored in our trees instead of our lungs. When you calculate the environmental benefits in economic terms, especially in light of the fact that we are only looking at street trees, and in just three of the 24 neighborhoods in the city, the importance of maintaining a healthy urban forest becomes quite apparent.”
Formed in March 2005 with the goal of developing a comprehensive strategic plan for urban forestry in the city, BUFC based its study on an inventory of “street trees” (city-owned trees on public sidewalks) conducted last summer in East Boston, Roslindale and the South End. (An inventory of street trees in Jamaica Plain had been completed earlier.) BUFC plans to complete its citywide inventory this summer and then utilize the data to identify opportunities for increasing tree cover in the city.
BUFC also intends to establish the environmental and economic value of Boston’s urban forest to help enlist public, government and private support for developing and maintaining a healthy urban forest. The Boston Parks and Recreation Department will use the data to inform its street tree management and maintenance activities.
"Street trees are an absolutely critical component of the urban landscape," said Boston Parks Commissioner Antonia M. Pollak. "The Urban Forest Coalition inventory provides us with a valuable tool for quantifying this vital resource."
The inventory is conducted by volunteers who receive training from tree professionals who then oversee the volunteers throughout the tree-by-tree study that records the number, health and general condition of each street tree in each neighborhood. The inventory utilizes a customized mapping application with data entry forms on pocket PCs. Using aerial photography taken last summer, the project is also conducting an overall assessment of canopy cover.
“Engaging community volunteers, both young and old, to be on the street in our neighborhoods going from tree to tree is a valuable first step in raising public awareness of the important work trees do for us in terms of public health,” said Renée Toll-DuBois of UMass Extension. “Community involvement is a key component of what our urban forest coalition is hoping to accomplish.”
The air quality benefit estimates from this study are generated by the Urban Forest Effects (UFORE) Model, a model developed by the USDA Forest Service for calculating the economic value of trees. The model uses the data collected by the inventory to assign a dollar value to each tree based on air quality improvements from the removal of ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and particulate matter, as well as carbon storage and sequestration.
“This study reinforces what many of us already know intuitively, that trees are crucial to the city’s health and well-being. We need to complete the street tree inventory this summer so that we have the information we need to take better care of one of our city’s most valuable resources,” Brokopp said. “We also intend to use the information in a marketing campaign designed to increase support for our urban forest through increased awareness of its public health, economic and environmental value.”
The BUFC coalition includes USDA Forest Service; Boston Parks and Recreation Department; Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation; Mass GIS; Mapping Sustainability; DotWell; UMass Extension and the Boston 4-H Urban Stewards; Franklin Park Coalition; Boston Department of Neighborhood Development; Urban Ecology Institute; Boston Natural Areas Network; and Urban Natural Resources Institute.
Further information on the results of the tree inventory, plans for this year, and general information about Boston’s Urban Forest Coalition is available on line at www.urbaneco.org or at www.Bostonforest.org. Detailed information about the UFORE model is available at www.ufore.org.
(Press Release received from Jon Seamans, Boston Parks & Recreation Department—April 4, 2006)