When we think about forests, we generally don’t think of houses, apartments and city streets, right? Well, recent studies by the Forest Service on the benefits of “urban forests” are redefining the way citizens think about the trees that shade their local block.

On a daily basis, most Americans don’t set foot on a National Forest. But with 80 percent of the U.S. population living in urban areas, a huge number of us drive, walk, bike and run through urban forests each and every day. Recognizing the importance of these statistics, the Forest Service developed the cooperative Urban and Community Forestry (UCF) program to focus on the stewardship of urban natural resources.

Under the UCF program, the Northern and Pacific Northwest Forest Service Research Stations conducted research focused on three cities: Portland, Sacramento and Chicago. Besides providing refreshing greenery and beautiful fall colors, urban trees were also found to increase the value of homes, improve air quality, and lower electrical bills. "Trees in urban areas beautify neighborhoods and provide great economic benefits," said Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. "Aside from enhancing neighborhood aesthetics they filter the air, reduce storm runoff and absorb carbon dioxide."

Estimates place the nation’s urban tree numbers around 3.8 billion. Together, those trees clean the air in a big way – with pollution removal valued at some $4 billion and carbon dioxide removal valued at around $460 million per year.

Here are some other cool, green urban forest facts:

  • The net cooling effect of a young, healthy tree is equivalent to 10 room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.
  • A belt of trees 98 feet wide and 49 feet tall can reduce highway noise by 6 to 10 decibels.
  • Fifty million shade trees planted in strategic, energy-saving locations could eliminate the need for seven 100-megawatt power plants.

These statics were generated using a new software technology developed by the Forest Service called “i-Trees Tools.” The program is designed to analyze city trees and provide benefit assessment information that can then be used to better manage and sustain urban forests in cities of all sizes. i-Trees is in the public domain and has already been used in over 80 countries from India to Uzbekistan.

From the taiga of Alaska to the Everglades of Florida, forests have always been a diverse crowd.

But now, whenever we hear the word “forest,” we can broaden our imagination from the lodgepole stands of Montana and the oak woodlands of California to the concrete jungles of Manhattan, knowing that all trees have their place and their value.

National Forest Foundation