Urban Forestry

Urban Forestry. The term itself appears to be either a typo by the author, or an oxymoron. At first glance, it seems to make about as much sense as Rural Mass Transit, or Underwater Skydiving.

So just what is Urban Forestry? The U.S. Census Bureau defines an urban area as having a population density of at least 1,000 people per square mile, and surrounding areas that have an overall density of at least 500 people per square mile. The trees that grow in yards, parks, shopping centers, commercial properties, and along streets in these high density, man-made environments are collectively called the “urban forest.”

The basic concepts of urban forestry have been practiced for centuries in the United States. In the 1700’s, a city ordinance was passed in Philadelphia mandating that every homeowner “plant one or more trees before the door that the town may be well-shaded from the violence of the sun…and thereby be rendered more healthy.” In 1872, the New York City Commissioner of Health recommended that street trees be planted to mitigate the intense heat to reduce the death rate of children.

Here in Texas, The Texas Forest Service Urban Forestry Program helps build self-sustaining urban forestry and tree care programs by working with communities, local governments, and non-profit organizations to plant, care for, and protect trees.

One of the most important functions performed by the Texas Forest Service Urban Forestry Program is to maintain an accurate inventory of the trees that make up the urban forest areas in Texas. The Texas Sample Community Tree Inventory (TXSCTI) computer model system is used to create a census of trees in an area. In addition, satellite imagery and aerial photography are used to make an in-depth analysis of tree leafing. The images are then compared to previous years’ data. Measuring the trees that produce new leaves for the season helps to determine the health of different varieties of trees and how they respond to environmental conditions.

This may well be the most crucial time in our state’s history for its urban forest areas. According to a February, 2012 report by the Texas Forest Service, “An estimated 5.6 million trees that once shaded homes, streets and parks in communities across Texas are now dead as a result of the recent drought.” This number represents as much as 10 percent of the total number of trees that make up urban forests in Texas. And these estimates are only preliminary as trees continue to die from the years long drought even as the rain has recently returned.

Besides their intrinsic beauty, trees provide many environmental and economic benefits to urban landscapes. Trees help to reduce the amount of energy used by homes and buildings by keeping them cooler in the summer with their shade, and warmer in the winter by blocking cold north winds. A recent study reported that trees provide a total savings in energy costs to the Houston area alone of $131 million annually.

Trees improve air quality by capturing pollution particles in their leaves, reducing carbon dioxide, and producing oxygen. The same study reported that Houston’s urban forest removes 60,575 tons of air pollutants per year with an annual economic value to the area of nearly $300 million.

Trees improve the water quality of our rivers and streams, and prevent millions of gallons of water from needlessly entering sewage treatment plants, by capturing rainfall and reducing erosion and storm water runoff.

Trees provide food and shelter for a wide variety of wildlife. They provide privacy, and reduce noise and glare. Just the sight, sound, smell, and touch of plants and trees can reduce a person’s stress level and help provide a better quality of life.

Trees help to strengthen the local economy. Healthy, established trees can increase property values by 10 to 20 percent, which in turn can increase property tax assessments.

By analyzing our current urban forest inventory, its composition, its health, and its impact on our communities, both short-term and long-term management plans can be developed and implemented to maintain and expand our urban forest for generations to come.

You don’t have to be a major commercial developer, or Urban Forester to make a difference. Take a look at the numerous native trees that are adapted to your area and plant several in your yard. As the old adage goes, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the next best time to plant a tree is today. Make sure that your trees are properly pruned and maintained. Get involved; I’ve started working with my homeowners association to form a neighborhood suburban forest program where I help my neighbors properly prune their trees, and offer tips on proper fertilization, watering, and care.

Imagine the day many years from now, while sitting in the shade with your grandchildren, that you will share the story of how you thought about them long before they were even born, while planting the tree under which you now sit.

Pillbug Control

Pillbugs, rolly-pollies, sowbugs, woodlice, potato bugs, we’re all familiar with those “cute little bugs” that roll up into an armadillo like ball when threatened. But they’re not so cute when they get into your garden and eat the plants and vegetables you’ve worked so hard to grow. In fact, they are not even classified as insects or “bugs” but as crustaceans, just like lobsters, crabs, and shrimp.

A little bowl of hot melted butter or cocktail sauce probably won’t do very much to keep pillbugs out of your garden, but surprisingly, a cold bottle of beer just might do the trick.

Preventative Measures
Before having to worry about getting pillbugs out of your garden, it’s a lot easier to keep them from getting in to begin with. Pillbugs are omnivores, or scavengers, that feed on dead or decaying plants or animals as well as live plants, fruits, and vegetables. They live in moist shady places, so make it a habit to clean leaf litter out of your garden regularly.

Get Rid of Them

What You'll Need
A bottle of beer, it doesn’t really have to be cold. Other fluids or beverages will not work. A few empty tuna cans that have been washed out.
Place the Cans
Determine which areas of your garden have a pillbug problem. In those areas, make a little hole in the soil that is the same size as an empty tuna can. Place an empty tuna can in the hole so that the top of the can is even with the soil level, kind of like a little in-ground pillbug pool.
Fill’er Up
Poor beer into each empty tuna can until it is not quite full.
Lifeguard Not on Duty
That’s it. Over the next few days, pillbugs that are in that area of the garden will be drawn to the beer, fall in the can, and drown.
The Results
Just empty the cans out regularly and refill with fresh beer.

U.S. Climate Report: April 2015

The April contiguous U.S. average temperature was 53.1°F, 2.1°F above the 20th century average—the 17th warmest April on record and warmest since 2012. Much of the contiguous U.S. was warmer than average, especially the Southeast. The April Lower 48 precipitation total was 2.78 inches, 0.26 inch above average, and ranking in the wettest one-third of the historical record.

Drought continued to intensify in the Upper Midwest and Northern Plains, while flooding rains impacted the Ohio Valley. The wet season ends in California and the Pacific Northwest by the end of April, minimizing the chance for significant drought improvement going into summer.

This monthly summary is provided by NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina.

The maps below show how the average temperature, and precipitation values for the month of April 2015 deviate from the 30-year normals (1981-2010).

– Click on Map to Zoom In –

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