Tree-sparse Nebraska leads planting efforts

In addition to this blog, I also write a guest column for our local paper, the Hattiesburg American. As a retired planner and long-time community developer (as well as current member of the all-volunteer City Planning Commission), I usually write about issues related to those topics.

The City Planning Commission is in the process of developing plans for improvements to the city’s oldest commercial corridors, those that connect to the downtown. Additions to landscaping, both public and private, are priorities in these plans.

These old corridors have decades-old structures, many of which have seen little improvement. As parking was added for cars over the years, the spaces in front of these buildings were paved over, straight from the building fronts to the streets.

This treatment of a commercial corridor is not only ugly, it’s detrimental to public health, a fact we’re learning more and more about.

One thing I’ve always been very proud of as a native Nebraskan is that it was home to J. Sterling Morton, founder of the Arbor Day Foundation. “Plant trees,” was Morton’s simple message. In relatively treeless Nebraska, this simple message resonates.

Morton’s message spread across the country as has the observance of Arbor Day, falling on different dates, depending on location and climate. Hattiesburg, as a Tree City USA designated by the Arbor Day Foundation, observes Arbor Day.

Echeverria House 2012

 

Since Hurricane Katrina, however, Hattiesburg has lagged in tree planting and replacement. That devastating storm took out about 40 percent of the city tree cover, and not quite seven years later, a tornado ripped out many more trees across a swath of the city.

That loss of tree cover, along with the dismal, bleak appearance of the old commercial corridors, underlines the need to step up the tree planting pace here. Hattiesburg is a place where numerous species grow easily, plus growth goes on most months of the year, so adding to the tree canopy is not nearly as challenging as it is in Nebraska.

The city has its own tree operation, raising oaks and some ornamental trees suitable for planting along the streets. As part of its Tree City program, the city arborists maintain and replant trees along streets where they are now growing.

Most of us know that plants release oxygen into the air, but they also:

• reduce air temperatures and thus ozone levels
• remove pollution particles that cling to leaves
• reduce energy demands, lowering energy plant emissions
• remove gaseous pollutants through leaf uptake.

In a recent edition of the Arbor Foundation newsletter, I read an article about the relatively new computer software called i-Tree Eco that makes it possible to calculate the value of what plants do.

Cities and groups can use this software to determine the specific dollar and cents value for each square foot of tree coverage. Whether it’s removal of pollution particles or reducing energy demands, a specific value can be determined.

Trees help prevent floods as well and many of us know all too well what the tremendous cost of flooding can be to a community.

For me, Morton’s simple message of “plant trees” is sufficient reason to move forward to increase the tree canopy here as well as continuing to increase it in Nebraska. If you need more specific data, however, it’s available.

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