New tree canopy assessment provides tree-planting tools for Puget Sound region

A new report includes an assessment of urban trees in nearly 80 cities in the Puget Sound area. (Photo courtesy Public News Service)

Trees in urban areas provide a number of benefits, from shade to cleaner air. Authors of a new assessment hope Puget Sound cities and towns will keep that in mind as the region sees rapid growth.

The Urban Tree Canopy Assessment provides planning resources so forest managers can better prioritize where they plant trees in central Puget Sound. Hannah Kett, urban program director for The Nature Conservancy in Washington, which led efforts on the report, said the goal of the assessment is to provide tree-planting tools for the region.

“Also to share, really, a model for regions in Washington state and across the U.S. of how a regional urban canopy assessment and tool development worked,” she said, “and what to consider if you’re doing a similar project.”

The assessment was a result of a three-year partnership with organizations including Davey Tree, American Forests and City Forest Credits.

Funds for the project came from the U.S. Forest Service and were administered through the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Ben Thomspon, the DNR’s urban and community forestry program manager, said lower-income neighborhoods often have fewer trees and can suffer the consequences — such as more urban heat islands and more flooding from increased stormwater runoff.

“You get this kind of one-two punch, where the lower-income residents in areas without tree canopy are not reaping the benefits that trees provide – including clean air, clean water, cooler environment,” he said, “but then, they’re also getting the increased impacts from the adverse conditions that result from not having tree canopy.”

The assessment also includes a climate species guide for trees that will be resilient to climate change. Thompson said successful street trees can live for decades.

“Most of the time when we plant trees, it goes beyond our own lifespans,” he said. “So, if we’re installing trees today, we need to make sure that the trees we’re planting today are going to be resilient to the climate that we can ostensibly predict, to the best of our ability, in the future.”

Thompson said there are three types of trees to focus on as the climate changes, including native species, resilient species that can weather climate stressors and trees from more southerly climates as conditions get warmer. He said it’s important to diversify the trees planted in urban areas.

— By Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service

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