EDITORIAL: Trees as infrastructure

Concerns about Tupelo’s trees, expressed by some members of the Tupelo Redevelopment Agency board of directors, rise from the removal of several large trees in the city during recent weeks, and discussion of those concerns is in the public interest.
Tupelo has rules about tree removal and replacement, and those have been followed so far as anyone knows, but it’s never out of place to stress for the public the importance of what’s called the “urban forest” and the role it plays in any city’s well-being.
The city’s environmental director, Sherry Cochran, is diligent in her work, and she pointed out a fact this week that is not an everyday thought: Many of Tupelo’s trees, especially the canopy of hardwoods planted after the 1936 tornado devastated the central city, are reaching the end of their natural lifespan.
The infamous tornado 73 years ago, was an F5 by today’s strength standards – the worst. It leveled most of the trees in its path, and the replacement plantings have matured and become venerable.
Replacements for the aging, diseased and potentially dangerous trees removed by city crews will require another seven to eight decades to equal the urban forest that’s been growing in many neighborhoods for seventy-plus years.
Perhaps what’s needed most by all Tupeloans is to become more proactive in tree planting, as much privately as through existing public policy.
Modern forestry, an extraordinary science, has shown that trees in urban areas are precisely what Frederick Law Olmstead, the father of American landscape architecture described figuratively in the designing of New York’s Central Park as the “lungs of the city.”
Gary Moll, a vice president at the nonprofit group American Forests, said, “We want people to understand that trees are an important part of the city infrastructure. There’s a hard part, and there’s a green part, and we should be planning for both.”
Because trees are both beneficial and beautiful, they could fall into Mayor Reed’s goal for Tupelo as Mississippi’s healthiest city and his priority on neighborhood quality.
Forest benefits extend beyond cities, too.
More than 60 percent of Mississippi’s land is covered by trees – more than 19 million acres.
In Northeast Mississippi about 52 percent of all land is in forests, but in Lee County, the percentage is 33 percent in the measure of the Mississippi Forestry Commission.
Urbanization surely has a bearing on the percentage countywide, and it seems likely to decrease unless due diligence develops a set of guidelines implemented for adequate forestation as residential development pressures landowners to fell trees for houses.
With forests, preemptive action is better than reaction.

NEMS Daily Journal

Click video to hear audio