West Virginia University researchers and the West Virginia Division of Forestry have teamed up to better understand and communicate the significant economic and environmental impacts of urban tree canopy cover across the state.
Greg Dahle, associate professor of arboriculture and urban forestry in the WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, completed a report estimating that West Virginia urban forests provide annual ecosystem services of $6,441,179 by capturing 4,348,592 pounds of pollutants. The report also revealed that more than 2.8 million tons of carbon are sequestered by the trees that make up these urban forests, resulting in an overall benefit of $53,308,328 in stored carbon. Combined, the annual ecosystem services and sequestered carbon totals more than $59 million.
Dahle’s comprehensive study – one that started out as a 2015 summer project for a former undergraduate student and was completed earlier this summer – focused on West Virginia’s 16 cities and towns that had earned the Tree City USA designation. TCUSA communities are part of a national program that provides the framework for community forestry management in the United States.
The value of the report will be far-reaching, extending from West Virginia to eastern Brazil.
“The report began as a project for Angela Sakazaki, who was at WVU as part of her study abroad program from Brazil,” Dahle said. “Angela wanted to learn how to utilize i-Tree Canopy, a state-of-the-art software suite from the USDA Forest Service, so that when she returned to her home University she could introduce this tool.”
Dahle then reached out to Bob Hannah, urban forestry coordinator with the West Virginia Division of Forestry, to see if there were any needs they could meet.
“Bob advised that the state would be interested in an i-Tree Canopy baseline assessment of the Tree City USA program in West Virginia,” Dahle said.
Such an assessment had never been done before.
“This information should prove to be a valuable tool to promote the Tree City USA program, as well as urban tree care in West Virginia,” Hannah said. “We plan to condense this information into a brochure for municipalities to utilize.”
Hannah also views this new data as being a means to a much bigger end, saying the data will be valuable to helping the Division of Forestry meet its two-part goal.
“First, this will be valuable information for existing Tree City USA communities to share with their respective city officials and councils so that tree care efforts and investments in the program will continue,” he explained. “Second, we hope this will encourage additional cities to become interested in the benefits of trees and begin taking steps toward becoming Tree City USA communities.”
For Sakazaki, the experience served as both a concluding and launching point in her academic career. She finished her project, returned to the Federal University of Viçosa and completed her program, earning a bachelor’s in forest engineering in 2016.
“When I finished the presentation of this project, my teacher told me that it is absolutely possible to use my findings as the foundation for a graduate-level project,” Sakazaki said.
Though she doesn’t plan to do that as an immediate next step, Sakazaki says it is a possibility for the future and, in the meantime, the project has been beneficial to many of her colleagues working on sustainability-related projects.
This study underscores the value of seeing the forest and the trees, regardless of the location on the map – but especially important for the Mountain State.
“In this heavily forested state, many residents take their urban trees for granted,” Dahle said. “This report helps our forest managers better understand and communicate the crucial role urban forestry fulfills in our cities and communities. I hope this will help drive interest in not only planting more street trees, but in maintaining green spaces along homes and businesses throughout the state.”
CONTACT: Nikky Luna
WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design
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