The news lately on the city of Durham’s urban forest has been all doom and gloom, with the fear that willow oaks around town are dying or being pruned too heavily because of utility lines.
These are very important issues, but what you may not be aware of is that urban forests such as Durham’s will have canopies and growth rates that will be in constant fluctuation over time.
Durham’s urban forest formally started in the 1930s with Dr. Clarence F. Korstian, the founding dean of the School of Forestry at Duke University, serving as the city’s tree commissioner. He helped get the willow oaks we see as magnificent mature trees planted as seeds and seedlings over 80 years ago. These trees have lived great lives and are now reaching the ends of their lifespans. So, instead of watching them degrade and fall naturally, the city of Durham has been slowly removing hazard trees around the city to keep people safe.
As these trees are removed they take with them the environmental benefits they provide, like preventing soil erosion. Urban soils face many stresses when development occurs on and near them. Having trees present reduces the chances soils will be lost by water or wind.
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Trees growing in urban soils also help filter out nutrients and chemicals in the soil and water, helping protect our resources further. The roots of trees also create spaces in the soil which allow for water and air to pass through it more easily, in turn allowing for better water infiltration. Further the root channels of these urban trees evenly disperse the runoff from the surface into groundwater, recharging the groundwater supply and reducing urban and stormwater runoff.
The benefits urban trees provide are numerous. In addition to improving the soil in which they grow, they also add beauty to their neighborhoods with their flowers blooming in the spring and their leaves changing color in the fall. Their beauty can even have a positive economic impact. Trees make the community more inviting and create good impressions on visitors. This encourages tourists and businesses to come to the area, while also increasing property values. Urban trees also reduce air pollution; they absorb carbon dioxide and help airborne particulates, like those in smoke, settle out of the air. The trees have the ability to absorb noise pollution too.
Though there may be many large, aging-out trees being removed by the city, don’t worry too much. New trees are being planted every year to replace the dying mature trees being removed in public spaces along streets and throughout parks around Durham. The city also has programs for residents to request trees be planted in the public space along their streets in front of their homes, or in nearby parks in which the resident can split the cost of a tree with the city. To learn more about the Adopt-A-Tree Program, visit the Durham’s Urban Forestry website: http://durhamnc.gov/799/Urban-Forestry
The health of the urban forest is not only the responsibility of the city of Durham, but also that of the Durhamites throughout the community. To make sure our communities are getting all the environmental benefits of urban trees, we need to make sure to be taking care of them.
As residents we can do a few simple things to take care of the trees planted in our front yards or neighborhoods by the city. We need to make sure these urban trees receive enough water when they are newly planted and that we do not damage them while doing yard work. If we can protect these trees while they are young, they will provide us with a lifetime of benefits.
Anne Liberti lives in Durham.