Living in an Urban Forest

Living in an Urban Forest

Houston’s urban forest comprises all trees in the city, including street trees, park trees and yard trees. These trees are found in urban-area parks, gardens, esplanades, greenways and street-side planters and tree boxes.

Most people are familiar with the benefits trees provide, from reducing air pollution and stormwater runoff to improving water quality, lowering temperatures, and creating habitats for birds and plants. They also increase property values and quality of life and can be used to beautify commercial areas and attract more business. They can also help establish a sense of place for neighborhoods and boost biodiversity in urban areas.

An analysis of the urban forest in Houston, Texas, reveals that this area has an estimated

33.3 million live trees with a tree canopy that covers 18.4 percent of the city. Roughly 19.2 million of the city’s trees are located on private lands. The most common tree species are yaupon, Chinese tallow tree, Chinese privet, Japanese privet, and sugarberry. Trees in Houston currently store about 2.0 million tons of carbon (7.5 million tons of carbon dioxide [CO2]); valued at $272 million. In addition, these trees remove about 140,000 tons of carbon per year (513,000 tons CO2 per year) ($18.6 million per year) and about 2,400 tons of air pollution per year ($20.4 million per year). Houston’s urban forest is also estimated to provide 126 million cubic feet of net wood volume and reduces annual residential energy costs by $53.9 million per year. Reduction in runoff provided by the trees in Houston is estimated at 173 million cubic feet per year with an associated value of $7.8 million per year. The compensatory value of the trees is estimated at $16.3 billion.

Urban forests offer a wide range of environmental benefits, such as the provision of wildlife habitat, aesthetic appeal, and visual barriers, reduced air temperatures, improved water quality, and mitigated air and noise pollution. Since 1930, the Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program has provided information on the amount, status, and character of forest land across the country. FIA has collected data about trees within FIA-defined forest land but usually excluded urban trees. Recognizing the importance of urban forests, and with direction from the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill1 to include urban forest monitoring in its strategic plan, FIA initiated an annualized urban inventory program.

Houston, Texas, is the second city to complete a full inventory cycle under the FIA Urban Inventory Program. Like Austin, the first city to complete a full urban FIA inventory, this location is ideal because of the Forest Service’s established relationships with the State of Texas, and an enthusiasm and willingness on behalf of the Texas A&M Forest Service (TFS) to collaborate and support the program. With an increasing population in Texas and the growing recognition of the environmental and economic benefits that trees contribute to urban areas, TFS has a pressing need to provide State agencies, city governments, nonprofit organizations, and consultants with accurate information to strengthen urban forest management and advocacy efforts. In Texas, these urban forests are located in areas where 85 percent of Texans live.

To understand Houston’s urban forest, the collected data was analyzed using FIA methodologies and the i-Tree Eco modeling software. This information is a summary of the findings of this analysis. My City’s Trees at www.mycitystrees. com, has been developed to make the information from this analysis available to numerous stakeholders and to aid in understanding and managing Houston’s urban forest. The urban forest is vital to living in Houston. We love being a part of protecting, preserving, and planting the trees that protect us.

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