Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Drought could cost Houston area 66 million trees

A sobering footnote to a problem I wrote about a couple of weeks ago:

If you've driven around any of the greener areas of the city like Memorial Park or Hermann Park, you no doubt have noticed a large number of dead or dying trees covered in browning leaves well short of winter. According to Trees for Houston, the city and its surrounding counties could lose 66 million (yes, MILLION) trees as the result of a drought that doesn't show any signs of letting up.

Adding insult to injury, the city is considering spending $4.5 million to remove dead or dying trees on public property -- more than 13 times what they spend on the same service in any given year. The number of trees they would remove if city council approves the measure would be around 15,000 from parks and esplanades.

As the drought continues with little end in sight, more trees will likely succumb to dehydration as well as bugs and disease that ravage trees weakened by the dry conditions.

That is a staggeringly depressing result of the drought. Not only will losing so many trees take an aesthetic toll on the area, but it will also result in economic loss (not only do trees raise property values, but now the city is having to spend money it doesn't have cutting so many dead ones down). The negative impacts of tree loss on this scale will also extend to erosion control, floodwater absorption (assuming it ever floods in Houston again), shading and cooling (trees help reverse the urban heat island effect) and air quality. Furthermore, given the time it takes for the tree canopy to regenerate, these negative effects could be particularly long-lasting.

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