Shade Crusade: Why City Trees Are Good Medicine Print
Written by Sandra Hines   
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Shade Crusade: Why City Trees Are Good Medicine
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The need is pressing. In her own neighborhood she says she’s seen eight-plex after eight-plex going up, mowing down every tree in the process.
That’s something Wolf’s students also noticed.

“Students are always out there and so they see things we may not be paying attention to. About five years ago students started saying, ‘We’re losing big trees in the cities.’ ” Wolf is talking about trees with trunks bigger than 12 inches across.

“I didn’t really pay attention to it but now it’s becoming an issue in the arborist and urban forestry community in the state. As we do infill development, what we’re left with are tiny spaces where only tiny plants can exist. With real estate values escalating, it’s much more difficult to convince the public to acquire spaces for green.”

The Evergreen State has a spotty record with its urban forests says Wolf. Robert Corletta, ’02; Noel Studer, ’03; and Sean Dugan, ’04; conducted statewide assessments for the Washington Department of Natural Resources since 2000 that found:
  • Only 10 percent of communities had up-to-date tree inventories.
  • Only 12 percent of communities had management plans; the rest don’t have clear goals and objectives for tree care.
  • About 20 percent of communities do routine tree care; the challenges include poor pruning practices and failing to replace trees where they have been removed.
  • While 47 percent of communities have tree ordinances, many reported needing better enforcement.

“Communities are trying but their efforts are often hit-or-miss and money is not consistently budgeted,” says Wolf, “Part of the problem is that when you say ‘nature,’ people tend to think about the Cascades or the Pacific Coast. They don’t realize the incredible value of nature niches in our cities.”

She points to one of the nature niches on the UW campus, the popular Medicinal Herb Garden, where Steve Brueggerhoff, ’01, surveyed people about what they learned there. Other than formal class groups, what he discovered was that people were at the herb garden not to study plants but rather as a respite from sitting in their offices.

They went there and claimed it enhanced their productivity when they went back to their desks,” Wolf says. “That’s what we humans need in urban settings to function at our very best, to optimize our abilities.

“There’s a peril in ignoring this for individuals and entire communities.” • Sandra Hines is a science writer for UW News and Information.


Purple and Gold and Green
The UW is one of the premier research institutions in the nation, so it is only natural that it is playing a key role in environmental initiatives at the international, state and campus levels. Here is a sample of recent UW contributions:

•    Last fall when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and former Vice President Al Gore were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, more than 50 UW faculty, affiliate faculty and students could claim a part of the credit. They served as lead authors, contributing authors and reviewers for the IPCC’s major reports over the years. “As the wording of the Nobel Prize citation emphasizes, it is not just having the scientific knowledge, but also getting public understanding and affecting policy that will alter the outcomes of our changing climate,” says Arthur Nowell, dean of the College of Ocean and Fishery Sciences. “UW scientists, policy experts and analysts have been important players in all three aspects from the oceans, the atmosphere and the policy dimensions.”

•    In the midst of International Polar Year, UW researchers conducted projects on the ice near the North Pole, camped beside some of the Earth’s greatest glaciers and published papers about startling changes detected in the Arctic. “The UW’s expertise in polar sciences includes some of the leading oceanographers, atmospheric scientists, glaciologists, biologists, chemists and computer modelers in the nation,” says Dick Moritz, director of polar sciences at the UW’s Applied Physics Laboratory.

•    The state has asked the UW’s Climate Impacts Group to conduct the most comprehensive assessment of the impact of climate change on Washington. Among other things, the study includes the first statewide look at how climate change may affect the health of residents—for example, by potentially increasing the incidence of West Nile virus or Lyme disease, according to Edward Miles, professor of marine affairs and director of the Climate Impacts Group. The project also marries the UW’s climate tools with Washington State University’s agricultural expertise to create the most detailed examination ever of how climate change might affect agriculture here.

•    At the campus level, the UW was one of six institutions achieving an overall grade of A- or better on a report card issued by the Sustainable Endowments Institute which considered 200 universities in the United States and Canada. The institute said that since his arrival, President Mark A. Emmert, ’75, has created an Environmental Stewardship Advisory Committee and an environmental stewardship coordinator position. The President has also formalized a policy focused on campus sustainability. Among other things, the institute noted that the UW has been working on energy conservation measures since the 1980s and all of the Seattle campus’s electricity purchases are from renewable and carbon-neutral sources.

•    Also last year, Emmert committed all three UW campuses to minimizing global warming emissions and integrating sustainability more firmly into the curriculum when he signed onto the Leadership Circle of the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment.—Sandra Hines