Growing More Green

Why are Trees Important to Your Community?

Macomb County launches Urban Forest Partnership to increase tree canopy cover

By Gerard P. Santoro, AICP

We’ve all heard about ash trees dying in mass due to this pest called the emerald ash borer, but have we taken inventory of what has happened to our neighborhoods as a result?  Well, when Macomb County Department of Planning & Economic Development participated in a Regional Green Infrastructure study in 2012, we learned just how devastated our urban forest canopy has become.  Not just the ash trees have been affected.  Before that was the Dutch elm disease, and we also need to account for those trees lost due to aging, utility repairs, and storm damage.  When we looked at the data, it became very evident that the areas in Macomb County along and south of the Main Branch of the Clinton River were hit especially hard within the southeast Michigan region.  Hit so hard that we barely have 50 percent of what is recommended by U.S. Forestry standards.

This quickly became a new area of focus for the Land and Water Division of Macomb County’s Department of Planning & Economic Development as we understood what was meant by the severe lack of trees.  Trees provide many benefits to urban and suburban areas as they not only help clean the air and naturally store storm water to assist in reducing flooding, but they also provide public health benefits and improved recreational opportunities.  The Right Tree in the Right Place for the Right Purpose can also provide savings in energy costs and increase property values.  These are the types of programming areas that the county is spearheading, along with many partners including all of the local communities in our initial targeted area, utility companies, and other agencies throughout the region. 

With the assistance of both state and federal grants, the Partnership has taken shape over the last year since Associate Planner Brent Geurink and I have introduced the concepts to a somewhat cautious audience.  For many years, silver maple trees, ash trees, and poplars were widely planted due to their inexpensive costs and rapid growth potential.  These trees, however, are some of the species that have provided non-optimal results due to weak branches, extensive root systems that break up sidewalks and interfere with utilities, or litter that falls at certain times of the year.   These trees are now entering the end of their life cycles in established areas and are not necessarily being replaced.  It is with these concerns, along with setting achievable standards to meet each community’s needs, that the partnership is blooming with success.  Based on technical information developed with the county’s Geographic Information System (GIS) and digital aerial photography, specifics that look at tree canopy cover parcel by parcel and block by block have been created.  We now have a complete guide and road map that has been customized for each community to use as a means to make very informed decisions. 

The Green Macomb Urban Forest Partnership also allows the County to work with other regional agencies to procure funds that help inventory, provide stock, and assist with evaluation of policies that affect the local communities and their ability to make useful and cost-saving decisions.  Most recently, the partnership has developed a relationship with the regional soil conservation district.  This agency has typically assisted farmers in northern Macomb County and other areas in the Thumb with best management practices to have healthy growing opportunities.  These same concepts are now being employed in the urban and suburban areas of Macomb County with very innovative programming that will allow for education-based opportunities for the community and the schools.  We’ve even created a specialized reduced cost Spring 2017 Tree, Shrub and Plant Sale that will take pre-orders up until April 6, with distribution at Freedom Hill County Park kicked off with our first-ever Countywide Arbor Day Celebration on Friday, April 28 starting at 10 a.m.

We encourage all Macomb County residents and business owners to get involved.  It is easy for the county and our partners to find ways to plant trees in public areas and right-of-ways, but it is not as easy to plant trees in everyone’s private yards or businesses, which represent about 80-85 percent of all land holdings in Macomb County.  Therefore, consider becoming a part of this reforestation movement by participating in the tree and plant sale and planting trees and shrubs on your own property.  All information regarding this new Green Macomb Urban Forest Partnership, as well as planting guides for local homeowners, can be found on our website: Green.MacombGov.org.

…and remember, plant the right tree in the right place for the right purpose!

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