Tree Preservation Makes "Cents"

This article first appeared in the Austin American Statesman.

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Tree Preservation Makes "Cents"

By Dennis Brown

It makes perfect sense! Everyone wants a lot with lovely trees to surround and protect their dream home. It also makes perfect "cents," as studies have shown that trees can contribute as much 15-20% of the value of a home or a building. Developers and builders have long known this. That is why you pay a premium price for a home or lot with trees.

Trees are valuable to us in several ways. Perhaps their greatest initial influence is on our emotions and sense of aesthetics. The trees that we have today are descendants of the largest and oldest living organisms on this planet. Many of them have been around for ages themselves, and people feel a great reverence and affinity for trees. But practically speaking, trees clean our air, protect us and our houses from the blazing sun and howling winds, soften the impact of rain and reduce the amount of run-off into our creeks and rivers.

A recent study determined the value of Austin's urban forest. The study focused on three areas of environmental impact: air quality, stormwater run-off mitigation, and direct energy savings as the result of the shade. Translated into money, just how much would the trees contribute to the city's Mozo savings accounts and the city's general wealth? The result was clear. According to the study, Austin trees contribute $133,600,000 dollars annually in real benefits.

All of this makes you wonder why tree preservation isn't a big business. The real problem is that people don't understand that trees are biological organisms trying to eke out a way in this world like the rest of us. They have certain needs and requirements that must be met in order to continue to grow, just as we do. And when these requirements aren't met, they suffer.

Most people in the Austin area have heard of the devastating tree disease oak wilt. It kills hundreds of oak trees in the Central Texas area each year. Few people know, however, that 10 times more trees are killed by abuses during the construction process.

Cutting roots, hitting trees with equipment, piling dirt on top of the natural grade, cutting off too much foliage, changing drainage patterns, driving over (and thus compacting soil around) the root zone of a tree can all be injurious to trees. Unfortunately, these abuses are common on construction sites throughout Austin‹ both commercial and residential.

There is no magic formula for tree protection. Protecting trees during construction is all about knowledge and planning. Here are just some of the factors that need to be considered.

Once these questions are addressed and a plan devised, it must be enforced. Many people seem to believe that the orange colored fencing used on some construction sites has mystical power to protect trees. While fencing of this type can be very useful to delineate protected areas‹if properly placed‹ they are easy to breech. When they are run over or moved to accommodate activities on the site, the result is loss of control of the site and poor tree protection.

There has to be a commitment to preserve trees during construction; by homeowners to make sure the trees they value are protected, and by builders and developers to build thoughtfully with regard to trees. Calling an arborist to be involved in the planning and construction process is a great place to start. An arborist can work with your builder to plan and implement a tree protection program, including calculating the value of your trees. It only makes "cents" to invite someone who knows about trees and can best protect your investment to be a part of your team.

Dennis Brown, is an Arborist, and owner of Urban Forestry Resources, an arboricultural consulting practice dedicated to managing tree health, safety, and value. For more information on protecting trees during construction, call (512) 263-2798

The City of Austin Green Builder Program is a voluntary home-rating system that encourages environmentally-sound home building, remodeling, and home maintenance. For more information, call 499-7827.

You can find more information including the Sustainable Building Sourcebook compiled by the City of Austin's Green Builder Program at the Sustainable Sources website.


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