President Barack Obama’s Great Outdoors Initiative will take its next step in an unlikely location: Pittsburgh. Tree Pittsburgh, a local environmental non-profit organization, released its Urban Forest Master Plan last week, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. The $275,000 plan intends for the city to increase the city’s tree population by 20 percent over the next two decades.
Beyond aesthetics, the tree growth will also have tangible benefits for the city. Last year, for example, the Master Plan reported that the 2.5 million trees in Pittsburgh removed 13,900 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, saved residents $3 million in energy bills, removed 519 tons of pollution (saving $3.6 million in pollution treatment costs), and diverted 41.8 million gallons of storm water.
Using these figures, a 20 percent increase in trees would save $600,000 a year in energy bills, and another $720,000 from diverted pollution. This comes out to a net savings of $1.3 million a year.
Increased tree growth helps save energy costs primarily by affecting heating and air conditioning costs. Strategically placed shade trees can keep residential properties cool, reducing air conditioning costs by up to 30 percent. In the winter, they serve as wind breaks, which at times can save 10 to 50 percent in heating costs.
In addition to financial benefits, the increased tree cover provides psychological benefits to the people living in the city. “When people think, ‘great outdoors,’ they think of places like Yosemite. They need to start thinking about places like Pittsburgh, too. 80 percent of our country’s population is in urban areas, and we know the importance trees have on the psyches of humans,” Arthur Blazer, the USDA’s deputy undersecretary of agriculture for natural resources and environment told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.
Currently, approximately 42 percent of the city is forested. However, this is mostly restricted to more affluent neighborhoods, and poorer areas do not receive the same benefits. Among its other goals, Tree Pittsburgh hopes to plant in such neglected neighborhoods.
Pittsburgh is not the only city to utilize assistance from the USDA in its Urban Forest Master Plan. A similar approach was used in Syracuse, where they planned to increase their canopy cover from 26.6 percent to 30 percent over 25 years. This amounted to a 12.75 percent increase; about half of what Pittsburgh intends to do. Other sections of the plan include restoring damaged trees and teaching residents how to plant trees on private property.
One method Tree Pittsburgh uses to increase tree planting is by organizing a volunteer program to teach residents about planting, proper care and pruning of trees.
Blazer told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette that similar programs can be used in other cities, and that the USDA will be available to assist in such programs should cities desire it. "As you implement your plan and improve upon your urban forest, we on the federal level can work with the city and local organizations to create more opportunities for young people," Blazer told the Post Gazette.