Thursday, March 19, 2015

Trees! Yes, They Have a Great Deal of Value!

     In this period of renewal where trees are beginning to bud out and new leaves are imminent, I am once again stunned by the various attitudes that people have toward the large woody organisms around them.  The range of reaction goes from people to understand the importance of trees and staunchly defend them all the way to the opposite side of the fence - people who find them to be something to be feared loathed and removed.
     Two conversations in the past week have struck a chord.  Both concerned trees to be cut down on private property.  The conversations were polar opposites and as such were cause for a good deal of thinking.
     The first was with a client.  She has a historic home downtown and is in the process of developing part of her property for additional residential use.  Her home is a beautiful Victorian home several stories tall and contains several large oak trees in the front yard.  Most of the trees are in great shape, but one is in decline.  It has reached old age!  It is also a 'champion' tree as defined by Town Code.  As a result of aging, it is beginning to lose back and the smaller outer branching.  Her development and the proposed Town street improvements will further stress this tree and will most likely be the straw that breaks the camel's back.  She is now needing to decide whether it is important to her to attempt to save this tree, which does greatly define her front yard, or to remove it because it is rapidly becoming a potential hazard.  This is a difficult decision for her because she has fought for this tree for years.  Her husband felt that it was a hazard a number of years ago.
     The second conversation was a bit more stunning.  One of my neighbors waved me over and began talking about removing trees from their site.  They have a half acre of mature oak trees in great shape and are currently in the process of removing them one by one.  It has been sad and sickening and tragic to see them cut these trees down.  In this case, she was busy arguing that the trees were a nuisance and that she wished that they were all cut down.  "They're dangerous!", she exclaimed.  "We had thirty thousand dollars worth of damage from trees when Fran came through.  I don't want that to happen ever again."
     It is true that many people had roof and house damage when Fran, a Category 1 hurricane when it came through this area,  ploughed its way inland.  We also had damage to our house.  But Fran came through nineteen years ago.  Hurricanes pushing their way this far inland are extremely rare.  You cannot create a situation of absolute safety.  People live in areas that are completely devoid of trees and still lose homes to hurricanes and to tornadoes that either spin off from the hurricanes or are spawned by severe thunderstorms.  As I pointed out to her during that same conversation, I had ten thousand dollars of damage to my roof five years ago due to my next door neighbor's house fire.  That was actually worse than the Fran damage because the hurricane damage was covered by homeowners insurance.  The fire was caused by my neighbor who after nine months of argument had themselves declared 'not legally liable'.  Thus neither my insurance nor their insurance covered it.  I paid for my damage out of my pocket; she paid for her damage with an insurance check.
     What my neighbor is missing is that those trees that she is busily cutting down are more valuable to her than the potential damage that she is seemingly avoiding.  Each one of those mature oak trees is worth - in crass dollars and cents - $5000 to $10,000 in the overall value of the property.  They have already reduced her property value by $40,000 to $50,000 just by their actions this past year.  That will take twenty to thirty years to recover and only if they replant immediately.
     Those trees also provide a aesthetic that it is impossible to place a value on.  Trees are wonderful to look at and help to improve mood.  Scientific study has proven repeatedly that trees create a sense of well-being and calm that is not present in an open area, even one that is planted.  That is one of the reasons why the more recent push to plant trees in school and public spaces.  That calming effect lowers the crime rate and increases the ability of a person to concentrate.
     Those trees also greatly improve the micro climate of a site.  Trees provide much needed shade which is hugely helpful in a location like ours which gets extremely hot in the summer.  Those trees that they removed were likely lowering the temperature of their house by at least ten degrees in the six months of summer that we experience here in North Carolina.  They were also acting to remove water from the soil, they have repeatedly complained about the wet soil in their back yard which is actually riparian buffer around the creek braiding that runs there.  That water is put back into the air as a result of transpiration and further acts to cool the air in the summer months.  This year their back yard will be considerably hotter and the soil much more mucky.  This same process also acts to greatly improve air quality in the vicinity of the tree.  Trees take in air - including pollutants - and expel oxygen minus the pollutants which are then sequestered within the wood of the tree.
     Finally, this neighbor has been violating Town Code.  The trees that they cut down were 'champion' trees.  They should have been removed only after having obtained a permit from the Town.  The reason for this is that the Town has come to recognize the importance and value of trees.  This kind of code is rapidly showing up all over the country.  Trees are a natural resource that effect more than the immediate property owner.  These neighbors are placing their personal choice over that of the public and breaking the law in the process.
     Trees are more than just pieces of wood sticking out of the ground.  They are living breathing organisms that provide valuable improvements to a property and to the surrounding community.  Their removal needs to be considered carefully and their loss should never be taken lightly.