In March 2003 American Forests Inc. and the US Forest Service released the results of an “Urban Ecosystem Analysis” completed for the Delaware Valley. Utilizing high resolution satellite imagery, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and CITYgreen software the analysis provided detailed information about the region’s tree cover, and calculated the monetary value of the environmental and economic impact trees have on the region. Changes in land use over time were also measured and the resulting changes in environmental services were quantified.
The five-county region including and surrounding Philadelphia was found to have suffered a loss of 8% of heavy tree cover (-34,000 acres) in only 15 years. A reduction in tree canopy cover translates to an increase in storm water runoff, an increase in energy costs, and a loss of air quality. In the Delaware Valley, the capacity to detain stormwater was diminished by 53 million cubic feet annually, a $105 million service. Each year 1.7 million pounds fewer pollutants were absorbed, a $3.9 million service, and 1,373 tons less carbon was captured in the making of wood.
Research also links the presence of trees to a more positive social and economic environment as well, making business districts more attractive, increasing property values, calming traffic, and reducing stress. The loss of canopy cover results in the loss of those benefits as well. In short, tree cover is recognized as vitally important to the quality of life in a community.
DCNR launched TreeVitalize as a broad-based public-private partnership to increase public awareness of the importance of community trees, and to reverse the loss of tree cover in the state’s metropolitan areas. The program began in southeast Pennsylvania in partnership with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. In 2008 it was launched in Pittsburgh, in partnership with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, and by the end of 2009 it will be available in all 14 of the state’s metropolitan areas, as defined by the US Census Bureau.
The state, through DCNR and DEP, contributed $3 million to TreeVitalize in southeast Pennsylvania over four years. Private corporations and foundations contributed another $1.7 million to the effort. Major contributors included the William Penn Foundation, Aqua PA, the Philadelphia Eagles, PECO/ Exelon, and the US Forest Service.
Pittsburgh will receive $1 million in DCNR funds over four years. To date, an additional $1.2 million has been contributed by private foundations.
DCNR has committed an additional $3 million to expanding TreeVitalize to the other 12 metropolitan regions of the state, and is actively seeking the support of private foundations and corporate donors.
The goal of the TreeVitalize Program is to plant 1 million trees within the next five years, by 2012. These are to include larger caliper trees for city streets, parks, and other public property; seedlings in buffer plantings along streams to reduce erosion and improve water quality; and those purchased by homeowners for planting on private property with a TreeVitalize rebate discount. An additional goal is to train 10,000 volunteers in basic tree biology and tree care to assist their communities in establishing and maintaining new plantings. Ultimately, the goal of TreeVitalize is to establish strong urban forestry partnerships in all 14 Pennsylvania metropolitan areas and to build local capacity for sustaining the urban forest resource.
DCNR initiated preliminary discussions with regional stakeholders in the Philadelphia area in summer of 2003, and appointed a Project Director in January 2004 through the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society. Planning, assessment and resource development continued through 2004. Tree-planting activities began in fall 2004 and continue today. The regional Tree Tenders program was launched in 2005. Although TreeVitalize is not a permanent entity, the collaborations created and capacity built will continue to increase tree cover and promote stewardship in the region.
The program began to take shape in Pittsburgh in October 2007 and in early 2008 a Project Director was hired through the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. The first plantings occurred in Spring 2008, and the program was fully up and running for Fall 2008.
Plans to expand the program to the other metropolitan areas across the state began in early 2008, to be directed jointly by staff of the DCNR Bureaus of Forestry and of Recreation and Conservation. Three metropolitan areas were selected by summer 2008 to pilot the program. The first plantings were scheduled for Fall 2008. The program is expected to become available in the remaining areas during 2009.
A Steering Committee, composed of funding entities, county governments and economic development partners, major technical assistance providers, identify priorities and approve projects. Operational committees, composed of local planting partners, technical assistance providers and/or public agencies with expertise in tree planting, will implement projects, deliver education and technical assistance. Other Committees will be formed on an as needed basis.