For a destination whose "Heart of the Redwood Coast" image is promoted as a tourist magnet, Eureka itself may seem like a bit of a letdown. Visitors used to the leafy streets of San Diego, Sacramento or Palo Alto, for instance, might find our mostly sparse and immature crop of sidewalk trees out of kilter with our arboreal reputation. However, with nearly 2,000 trees owned and maintained by the city, plus hundreds more sidewalk trees maintained by property owners, Eureka is ahead of most other comparably sized Californian cities. And in the cities mentioned, electric utilities' policies of encouraging shade trees to reduce air conditioner use has been a major factor.
Reduced energy use is by no means the only benefit provided by urban trees. Trees can:
Calm traffic, turning transportation corridors into avenues. A study in Texas, published in 2006, showed a 46 percent decrease in urban arterial crash rates following tree planting.
Reduce air pollution by trapping particulates (dust, ash, pollen and smoke) and harmful gases such as ozone, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides. In addition, trees absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen through photosynthesis.
Fight the atmospheric greenhouse effect by removing the carbon from carbon dioxide and storing it as cellulose in their trunks. On average, healthy urban trees store about 13 pounds of carbon annually.
Reduce stormwater pollutants that would otherwise flow into lakes or oceans by absorbing surface runoff and purifying pollutants that come into contact with tree roots.
Increase economic stability by attracting visitors to shady downtown streets, encouraging them to linger and shop longer than they would have otherwise. Plus, incidents of street and property crime are consistently lower in tree-lined areas compared to barren streets, according to two studies published in Landscape and Urban Planning and Environment and Behavior.
Reduce noise pollution by absorbing traffic sounds.
Following the adoption of a City Council motion to establish Eureka as a "tree-lined city" in 2005, two groups — Redwood Community Action Agency and Keep Eureka Beautiful — have been working with the city to plant sidewalk trees. Both groups are supported by grants from the state and private foundations. One focuses on low-income areas, and the other plants trees all over Eureka. The city supports the groups by cutting the concrete (charging on a time-and-materials basis) and waiving permit fees, while Pierson's Nursery provides trees to the groups at cost. The organization I belong to, Keep Eureka Beautiful, has planted nearly 600 trees on behalf of homeowners, who pay a nominal cost to have the group's volunteers plant a tree (or trees) next to their property. Homeowners are also responsibility for maintenance and liability.
Trees have been around since the first animals emerged from Earth's oceans 300 million years ago, and now they offer so much while asking so little. Thanks to the volunteer groups and an enlightened city policy, the goal of tree-lined streets throughout Eureka is slowly coming to fruition. And we'll all be the healthier for it.
Barry Evans (firstname.lastname@example.org) believes the ancient adage "plant a tree, go to heaven."