Correctly planted trees enhance homes, save energy

David M. Brown, Special for The Republic |

For energy savings and comfort in the desert, trees have us covered.

Most Valley residents didn’t attend the Regional Tree & Shade Summit 2.0 in Phoenix on March 9, but a full house of 180 people had their schedules highlighted in green to ensure they were there.

With a keynote address by Dr. Greg McPherson, research forester for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Pacific Southwest Research Station in Davis, Calif., the second summit attracted public and private companies and individuals interested in local urban forests, low impact development and increasing the success of tree and shade efforts by cities and property owners.

Benefits to homeowners

Homeowners can benefit from lifestyle enhancement and energy savings by correctly planting trees, said Anne Reichman, CSBA, program manager for the Sustainable Cities Network at GIOS. The event was held at the Downtown Phoenix ASU campus.

For one, trees are important to the health, vitality and beauty of our communities.

“Research shows that the prevalence of trees is linked to safer neighborhoods, less urban heat island effect and increased property values,” she said.

In addition, trees bring people together.

“In speaking with various attendees at the summit, it was amazing how many people had their own stories or memories associated with a special tree or area with trees,” Reichman said. “They provide a connection with the environment, and, more importantly, with other people and experiences within our individual lives. Trees create memories or backdrops for those memories.”

For instance, in his opening remarks to the group, Avondale Mayor Kenn Weise spoke about his home town, Chicago, and its commitment to increasing urban forestry efforts.

And, trees are “solutions multipliers”: “They provide multiple benefits in the area of air quality, removing pollutants from our air, reducing stormwater run-off and energy-related costs in residential buildings and providing valuable shade in our hot desert environment,” Reichman said.

Savings to Phoenix

For instance, the city of Phoenix estimates that trees reduce energy-related costs from residential buildings in the city by $22.9 million annually reduce storm water runoff by 91.7 million cubic feet per year and $6.11 million per year, she said, citing city figures.

“The 3.2 million trees comprising Phoenix’s urban forest are a $3.8-billion asset that provides $40 million in annual services by reducing cooling costs, cleaning the air, reducing stormwater runoff, storing carbon, increasing home sales prices and promoting human health and well-being,” said McPherson, who has studied the value of trees to urban forest planning and management.

“Trees are a valuable asset not for the property owner but the community,” said Richard Adkins, forestry supervisor, city of Phoenix Parks and Recreation. “They are a low-cost, high-yielding investment, supplying environmental, economic and social/health benefits.”

As an investment

For instance, just one correctly planted mesquite tree reaps a 40-year benefit of $2,755 for its energy effects, carbon storage, air-pollutant uptake, rainfall interception, stormwater-runoff reduction and property value increase, McPherson said.

“Trees are an important investment for both cities and residents in that they provide short- and long-term benefits when properly valued, maintained and cared for,” Reichman said.

Phoenix does this through its Master Tree & Shade Plan 2030.

Glendale and Mesa have partnered on a Water Infrastructure Finance Authority to create a Low Impact Development Toolkit for Valley cities to divert stormwater for use in the plants/trees, increasing their long-term survival without the need for irrigation.

The city of Avondale adopted its Street Tree Master Plan in December 2014.

“One of the primary points of the summit was to provide continuing education to those like me tasked with maintaining the urban forest, so our neighbors will benefit knowing that urban foresters have connected and are planning for the future in terms of tree canopy, maintenance, master planning and other components,” said Drew Bryck, the city’s environmental program manager.

Getting them in the ground — correctly

The city of Tempe’s principal planner, architect Bonnie Richardson, said the need for eduction and action in getting trees in the ground now for future generations was a theme of the summit.

“Planting the right tree, in the right place, is a legacy of value as well as beauty,” she said.

The city is completing an Urban Forestry Master Plan & Action Plan.

Trees are often planted incorrectly, however, leading to shorter natural lifespans or issues requiring removal, Reichman said.

To correct this, Salt River Project discussed the benefits of its Shade Tree Program, administered by Valley Permaculture Alliance, which also attended.

The popular program offers up to two free desert-adapted trees to SRP residential customers who attend a 70-minute workshop about how to best plant and care for their new trees.

“Well-placed shade trees can reduce cooling needs by 10 percent by blocking the sun’s rays,” said Lori Rogers, SRP Residential Energy Efficiency Program marketing manager. “The side of the house shaded by the tree can be 10 degrees to 30 degrees Fahrenheit cooler at peak times — all without using a lot of water.

“In addition to saving up to $50 annually on cooling costs, shade trees also add value to customers’ property, produce oxygen to help clean the air, provide a wildlife habitat and reduce stormwater runoff.”

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The summit included sessions and discussions on topics including municipal planning, the role of trees in green infrastructure, municipal ordinances, health benefits of trees, biogenic volatile organic compounds, municipal urban forestry planning, species selection, sustainable maintenance and the benefits of structural shade in areas not suitable for tree placement.

The event was hosted in partnership with ASU’s Sustainable Cities Network and the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, the cities of Avondale, Mesa, and Phoenix, Downtown Phoenix, Inc., the Arizona State Forestry Division, and USDA Forest Service.

Funds were provided by the Urban and Community Forestry Financial Assistance Program administered through Arizona State Forestry — Urban and Community Forestry Program and the USDA Forest Service.

“We loved Dr. McPherson’s comment that trees are the most efficient organism on the planet,” Mesa resident Marquetta White, who attended with husband Bob. “He also pointed out that trees are vital to health, improving our mental, emotional and physical well-being.”

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