What’s new in natural yards? May 2017

Two weeks ago, the City of Madison made a change to how it will handle emerald ash borer (EAB).

Previously, the City had decided that it would not give any ash trees that were already unhealthy a treatment to protect them from EAB. What the City did not make clear to residents was that any tree located under a power line would be considered unhealthy, regardless of what condition it was actually in.

In thinking about the impact that this decision would have, the City realized that older neighborhoods in Madison, which have overhead power lines, stood to lose a lot of trees, while newer neighborhoods, in which the lines are underground, would be able to keep their trees. Recognizing the immense value of trees to nearby residents – due to trees’ ability to clean the air, reduce flooding, moderate temperatures, increase property values, and so on – the City concluded that it would not be fair for some neighborhoods to lose a lot of trees while others are able to keep their trees.

Based on this conclusion, Madison’s Common Council voted that ash trees under power lines should be treated to protect them from EAB, provided that they meet the City’s other requirements for treatment.

The full text of the resolution can be read here.

What’s new in natural yards? May 2017

What is this week?

Recognizing the importance of trees in our neighborhoods, the city of Madison has declared the coming week to be Arbor Week. The following resolution was adopted last month:

 

WHEREAS, the City of Madison has been a Tree City USA for 28 years; and

WHEREAS, children and youth living in greener neighborhoods are healthier; and

WHEREAS, trees give us oxygen, clean the air, and filter air pollutants; and

WHEREAS, trees in our neighborhoods increase property values; and

WHEREAS, the continued planting and care of trees in our city shall provide the same benefits for the present and future residents of Madison.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Mayor of the City of Madison, Wisconsin, does hereby proclaim the week of April 30 through May 6, 2017 as ARBOR WEEK in the City of Madison, and urges everyone able to observe this week to plant trees and to participate in programs that the sponsors of Arbor Week may provide.

What is this week?

What is a tree worth?

There are several ways of answering this question.

First, as described in an earlier post, a mature tree can add thousands of dollars to the value of a property, in addition to saving the occupants money on utility bills.

Second, trees provide measurable value to a city through their role in absorbing and filtering stormwater, cleaning the air, and improving human health. New York City has calculated that its street trees are worth $122 million a year, and that every dollar spent on improving this urban forest generates a return of $5.60.

Third, a recent study found that adding ten trees to a city block produces benefits to the health of nearby residents that are equivalent to giving those residents an extra $10,000 a year of household income.

Urban trees have also been found to decrease childhood obesity, improve ADHD symptoms, deter crime, reduce traffic accidents, improve memory, speed recovery from illness, and even lower the rates of suicides and premature births.

Trees are usually the last thing to be considered in development projects, getting treated as nice-to-have amenities that are added at the end if there’s any money and space left. Experts on urban trees, however, say that the presence of trees in our neighborhoods is crucial to our wellbeing. Their true value, these experts say, is effectively incalculable.

What is a tree worth?

What is Earth Overshoot Day?

We all understand budgeting with money. If a household makes $50,000 in a year, then $50,000 is the most they should spend in a year. To spend more, they would have to overdraw their checking account or run up their credit card balance – practices that can quickly lead to financial disaster.

Ecosystem services need to be budgeted, too. The Earth “pays” us various resources, like food, wood, clean water, and breathable air. These resources continually replenish themselves, which is why we call them “renewable”.

However, even renewable resources only renew so fast. Each year, the Earth only generates a certain amount of the products and services we need. To budget wisely, we should make sure we aren’t using these services faster than the Earth can provide more of them.

Unfortunately, right now we’re not living within our ecosystem budget. Between last January 1st and today – August 8th – humans have collectively used as many resources as the Earth will produce in all of 2016. In other words, it’s taken us just over seven months to use up resources that our planet needs an entire year to generate.

That’s why today is called Earth Overshoot Day. But don’t mark your calendar for August 8th, 2017 – unlike other holidays, Earth Overshoot Day gets earlier every year. That is, we’re using up resources faster and faster, and wiping out the plants and animals that provide those resources, thus slowing down the rate at which the Earth can produce more of the things we need.

In 2015, Earth Overshoot Day fell on August 13th. As recently as 2009, it was in September. And in 1970, we just barely overspent our ecological income, using up a year’s worth of resources on December 23rd.

This isn’t a sustainable path. By taking less from the Earth, and putting back more, we can live within our ecological means.

What is Earth Overshoot Day?

How does natural gardening affect my utility bills?

In the Eastern states, including Wisconsin, approximately 30% of household water usage goes to keeping lawns alive. Using water systems, or landscaping with plants that require less supplemental water, can greatly reduce the monthly utility bill.

In Western states, where up to 60% of household water usage is spent on lawns, water systems are often not legal. However, the desert states are home to a wonderful variety of drought-tolerant native plants. Landscaping with these species conserves water, reduces monthly expenses, and restores a unique sense of place.

Landscaping choices can affect heating and cooling bills too. A mature shade tree can significantly reduce summertime temperatures in a neighboring building, while letting sunshine in to warm the building in colder months. A row of trees or bushes can block winds that pull heat out of a home in winter.

In summer, even smaller plants that don’t provide shade can cool a home through their processes of exchanging water with the air. A yard full of healthy plants is like a green air conditioner!

Finally, a natural yard can often be cared for with minimal use of motorized equipment, which saves gas and electricity. Letting nature work for us can improve our comfort and quality of life, while keeping money in our pockets.

How does natural gardening affect my utility bills?

What’s new in natural yards? – Part 1

Madison’s new Pollinator Protection Task Force has recently released a report on what the city can do to help bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators. Following the lead of the White House, which has called for an “all hands, all lands” approach to address the rapidly-declining populations of key pollinators, Madison’s plan focuses on the importance of pollinators for our food system.

The plan lays out four basic strategies to restore habitat for pollinators:

The plan notes that the major obstacle to implementing these steps is concern on the part of city residents who find pollinator habitat unattractive. The plan calls for education and outreach programs to allay fears about the perceived dangers of pollinator-friendly landscaping practices.

The plan can be read here.

What’s new in natural yards? – Part 1

Why are there unraked leaves in that yard?

In the context of a lawn, fallen leaves are often seen as a mess to be cleaned up and sent away as waste. In a natural system, however, leaves are a valuable resource.

In nature, fallen leaves stay near the plant they fell from. Lying on the ground over the winter, they cover and insulate the plant’s roots, protecting them from temperature fluctuations, freeze-thaw cycles, and frost heaves.

Leaf litter serves as an important habitat element for many insects, which overwinter in, or lay their eggs in, the fallen leaves. The insects or their offspring emerge the following year to continue their life cycles. Raking away leaves interrupts these cycles, leaving a crucial gap in ecosystem functioning.

With the return of warmer weather, fungi and microorganisms get to work decomposing the leaves, returning them to the soil. Plants are then able to reabsorb those nutrients, and turn them into a future year’s leaves.

When leaves are raked to the street, they must be taken away by fossil-fuel-consuming vehicles. While they are waiting to be picked up, rain can wash their nutrients into stormdrains and then into the lakes, where they contribute to harmful algae blooms. For these reasons, Madison encourages homeowners to “leave the leaf“.

Why are there unraked leaves in that yard?