Editorial: Tree canopy a resource worth city’s time, effort

Last modified: Tuesday, September 02, 2014
It doesn’t take a math whiz to see that if Northampton has lost 500 public shade trees since 2006 but planted only 242 replacements, its tree canopy is headed for trouble. Officials and residents concerned about the health of Northampton’s trees are poised to take steps that will reverse that trend. This is time, energy and money well spent.

The term canopy refers to the area of a community shaded by trees. It is important to the vitality, health and well-being of a city and its inhabitants, as are safe roads, a functioning infrastructure and a robust economy. Yet the tree canopy receives far less attention.

People tend to think trees will be around forever. But without proper care and thoughtful planning, they may not be.

Trees provide oxygen, reduce smog and improve air quality.

Studies show that the presence of trees can lower blood pressure and heart beats and relax brain wave patterns. They help avert the consequences of climate change and conserve energy by providing what advocates call “natural air conditioning.” Healthy tree canopies promote water quality and offer wildlife habitat.

A share of a community’s tree canopy stands on private lands, in backyards, front yards, or wooded areas in private hands. City officials, for the most part, have little influence on these trees. But the city can have a great deal of say about public trees — those in parks, on city property, school yards and in greenways near public walkways.

In Northampton, several efforts aim to counter the loss of trees, including possibly creating a position of tree warden that would be filled by a professional arborist. The tree warden would guide efforts to inventory city trees, create a tree-management plan that keeps the canopy healthy and robust and field tree-related issues.

This effort has support from Mayor David J. Narkewicz, who has said by the end of September he will recommend the city create that new position.

In taking steps to tend to its trees, Northampton is following Amherst, where residents sounded the alarm about trees in 2008.

That led to a Town Meeting vote creating a full-time tree warden hired in 2011. That official led a tree inventory, is mapping where trees need to be planted and provided leadership for Town Meeting approval of a plan to plant 2,000 trees.

In addition to taking such steps, communities need a culture that values trees.

Amherst Tree Warden Alan Snow said a key part of his job is to talk about trees and their importance to residents, developers, town officials and DPW engineers.

Northampton loses, on average, 32 more trees a year than it plants. Until changes were made in Amherst, that community was losing 100 trees a year. Northampton can preserve and protect its tree canopy and should waste no time doing so.