Working off a study by American Forests, a national nonprofit conservation organization, Tacoma crafted a goal of increasing the canopy to 30 percent by 2030, though the study recommended 40 percent.
Why the focus on tree canopy? For city engineers like Jim Parvey, whose role (among other things) is to develop plans to achieve the 30-by-30 goal, trees are crucial city infrastructure. “Trees filter stormwater, they reduce the peaks of floods … and they reduce greenhouse gases by sequestering carbon,” he said.
Trees also produce oxygen and cool the air — fairly essential elements for human existence — as well as support wildlife and a healthy ecosystem.But there’s also the human element. “Studies show that trees in business districts increase profitability by 12 percent compared to grayscape,” said Melissa Buckingham, water quality program director at Pierce Conservation District.
Trees also add property value and reduce crime rates. But, added Buckingham, they also do things you might not measure: slow traffic, reduce noise, cool sidewalks to encourage walking. “They’ve found more community built around trees — more safety and shade,” she said. “They have social value.”
In addition according to Nadkarni, a former environmental studies professor at Olympia’s The Evergreen State College and founder of the International Canopy Network, trees teach us about stillness, mindfulness, the interconnectedness of all life and what lies beyond the mundane. “Trees at once enrich and instruct our lives in ways at once simple and complex,” Nadkarni writes. “Opening up to something as simple and pleasurable as climbing a tree — or themselves.”
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