Why is Urban Tree Canopy Important?

In the last issue of Edmond Tree Mail, we discussed urban tree canopy – what it is, how it is measured, what affects it, and some background on tree canopy in Edmond. In this issue, let’s go a little further and talk about why urban tree canopy is a vital resource for a community. 

Trees in general provide a large number of ecosystem services, or environmental benefits that we directly experience by having trees planted throughout our city. Ecosystem services carried out by trees include:

  • Removal of pollutants from the air, soil and water
  • Release of water vapor into the atmosphere which cools the surrounding areas, mitigating the urban heat island effect
  • Interception of rainfall and reduction of storm water runoff (and thus, reducing the costs related to infrastructure required to manage it)
  • Energy savings and reduced greenhouse gas emissions due to shade provided
  • Carbon sequestration
  • Increased property values
In addition to the contribution of these ecosystem services, trees provide other health, social, economic, and aesthetic benefits as well. The magnitude of the ecosystem services themselves are tied to the age, size and condition of the trees in the urban forest. Mature trees with larger crowns that are in good condition will provide more services than younger, smaller trees. As a result, a city with greater urban tree canopy cover (a larger network of trees) will experience more ecosystem services than a city with a lower canopy coverage.

Ideally, an urban forest is comprised of trees of varied ages, which includes trees in their prime of ecosystem services, as well as trees that will get there in the future. In the urban environment where trees face challenges such as poor soils, inadequate growing space, development, or conflicts in landscape management and other stressors, action must be taken to ensure that canopy cover is maintained over the long term. Tree canopy takes a while to build.

Edmond City Council recognizes the important benefits of tree canopy, and has included on their Strategic Plan an initiative to “work with the Urban Forestry Commission to establish tree canopy goals and identify steps for implementation.” The Edmond Urban Forestry Commission has discussed this topic at many of their meetings since that time and in 2017 formed a subcommittee to address goal recommendations and potential steps for implementation. These actions will help to ensure that future generations of Edmond citizens continue to enjoy the trees that we all love.

View more topics from the Summer 2017 issue of Edmond Tree Mail