Gardening Matters

There has been a lot of energetic lip-flapping lately about the city of Dunwoody’s plans to create a 12-foot wide concrete “path” through Brook Run Park. This is accompanied by even more energetic blathering about the city’s plans to de-construct the Village Parkway. Intelligent and thoughtful people on both sides of these issues have been chiming in. Both of these projects will involve cutting down a fairly large number of irreplaceable trees.

While normally I’d rather get thrown in to a log chipper than to get involved in a politically-charged kerfuffle, the loss of these trees is not something that should be taken lightly. Together, these projects will require the destruction of over 400 mature trees - well over 300 in Brook Run and about 75 along the parkway. That 400 number does not include dozens upon dozens of smaller saplings and all the underbrush that will all be removed. The value of these trees in our community should not be underestimated.

I recently found a website that enables you to estimate the annual dollar value of trees in our community. The National Tree Benefit Calculator can be found at treebenefits.com. It allows you to get a dollar estimate of the economic benefit of an individual tree, whether it is found in your home landscape, in parks or otherwise vacant land.

My skinny little ginko in the front yard is worth $32 a year. The big magnolia in the front is worth a nice $91 a year. And the aged oak in the back yard is worth a whopping $194 a year. I have a bunch of other trees and about a quarter acre of untamed, tree-filled wilderness at the back of my property. My off-the-cuff guesstimate of the annual value of my trees would have to be in the range of $4000-$5000 or more.

These economic benefits include the value of cleaning the air, curbing runoff and erosion, sequestering carbon, enhanced property values and reduced energy costs.

Trees clean the air by absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen. This is important for a couple of reasons. It should not be a surprise to anyone that oxygen is very important for breathing. The sequestering of carbon helps reduce the carbon footprint of our community and hold down pollution-related costs for all of us.

Trees help control erosion, absorb storm water runoff and anchor our soil, especially along creeks and hillsides. They also shade our homes during hot summers and allow sunshine to get through in the winter. Just the evaporation of moisture from trees has a general cooling effect on outdoor areas. That’s one reason why parks and lawns are so appreciated on summer days.

Trees raise property values. This is true not only when planted artfully next to our homes, but also when trees and green zones are incorporated into our communities. I have always been shocked to look at new subdivisions that have been built after clear cutting the lots. They seem so naked and will necessitate additional costs for home owners to install new trees. It never made sense to me. In the creative language of real estate speak, Dunwoody is known as an “old shade” community. We need to honor this description and be very careful about altering that status.

Trees in our community not only directly benefit the people of Dunwoody, they also provide habitat for thousands of birds, squirrels, insects and other valuable members of our environment. I don’t know how you would estimate a value for that, but it is certainly a major benefit. Some decades ago the Chinese reportedly offered a bounty on sparrows because they were thought to be eating up too much of the rice harvest. Soon the sparrows were almost gone and the millions upon millions of insects they had been eating became a far more costly pestilence than the loss of some of the rice harvest. There are definitely economic costs associated with destruction of natural habitat and the wildlife it supports.

The loss of over 400 mature trees is much more than a Birkenstock-wearing, tree-hugger’s worst nightmare. It has an economic cost for all of us. That is something we need to fully consider as we look at civic projects involving tree removal.

I am told that some clever wag has come up with the slogan, “Let’s keep the wood in Dunwoody!” That sounds like a good idea to me.

Jeff Coghill has been gardening in DeKalb County for more than 30 years and has probably killed at least one of each kind of plant he has tried before getting another one to thrive. He is a gardening volunteer at the Dunwoody Nature Center and works closely with members of the DeKalb Master Gardeners group. He can be reached at gardeningmatters@hotmail.com.

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