Improving Tree Canopy for Climate Resilience

Christine Crissman

The Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay is sharing some good news. Mature trees can play an important role in controlling and limiting stormwater runoff, cooling urban areas and reducing harmful air pollution – all at the same time.

In this video essay, Nature Change hears from Christine Crissman, Executive Director of the Watershed Center located in Traverse City. She explains that the frequency of severe rain storms and the severity of those storms are increasing across Northwestern Lower Michigan. That means larger amounts of stormwater runoff which can damage the water quality in the Grand Traverse Bay. Crissman says that one effective response to reduce the negative impacts of stormwater is increasing tree canopy in both urban and smaller community settings.

Melinda Jones

Working with the Watershed Center, the Ann Arbor-based nonprofit, ReLeaf Michigan is helping to explore options for increasing tree canopy in five small communities throughout our region, including Bellaire, Elk Rapids, Kalkaska, Kingsley and Northport. Executive Director, Melinda Jones says that mature trees retain a lot of stormwater on the leaves and bark, reduce the erosive force of rain events, and help direct more of the stormwater into the ground.

Forester Lee Mueller is a consultant with the Davey Resource Group working with both ReLeaf and the Watershed Center helping to evaluate where tree planting will offer the greatest benefit. Using a priority assessment approach, his team develops maps to identify the areas where new trees will produce the greatest reduction in stormwater.

Lee Mueller

Crissman and the Watershed Center are hoping to use the lessons learned from working with ReLeaf and the Davey Resource Group to encourage and support increases in tree canopy in the Traverse City area as well. Recently, Watershed Center staff members began working with a task force of local officials and engaged citizens to identify ways local governments can encourage the addition of trees for stormwater reduction.

According to Traverse City Councilman Tim  Werner, large mature trees are important and very valuable community assets. Canopy trees help to reduce the amount of stormwater cities have to deal with through sewer systems and add to local property values.

Tim Werner

Trees play an important role in creating attractive neighborhoods and building community identity. Werner says, the work to replace and improve mature canopy trees should start right away and keep going through the decades.

2 thoughts on “Improving Tree Canopy for Climate Resilience

  1. I think we need to protect the mature trees we have. In my neighborhood mature trees are being cut at an astonishing rate. TC needs a tree protection ordinance.

  2. Joe, I love the tree video, but I am struck by the conflicts in urban environmental policy. The city commissioner you quoted is the foremost new urbanist on the TC Commission. New Urbanism, as it is being interpreted in TC, means zero-setback. Zero-setback means the canopy is being cut out of the public right-of-ways — such as along Garfield Ave. I worry that as Eighth St. is developed, tree canopy is going to be cut to make room for the upper floors of buildings.

    If you take a look at Garfield, just south of Eighth, you’ll see what I mean. The new housing development on the west side of the street has taken out every tree. Then, for reasons that I fail to understand, the power company’s new poles to the north of Eighth St. appear to have required a clear-cut of the beautiful trees lining that section of Garfield. The effect of all the cutting has turned Garfield into a post-Traverse City canyon.

    The ameliorative value of trees includes shade/cooling and most importantly for me, sound reduction. The sound that reflects off unmitigated hard urban surfaces is as disruptive as the sound that reflects off certain restaurant walls and ceilings. You cannot hear the person on the other side of the table. If we take the mitigation value of heat reduction, sound reduction, and stormwater reduction, and then you add the enhancement value of the greenery and site-line softening, we have just started to address the costs and benefits of tree preservation in urban settings.

    I moved to Traverse cognizant of the fact that it was a “saveable” place. It is he best sort of test environment for planning policy. I think it would be great if TC would hire you on an ongoing basis to provide useable overviews, aesthetic inventories, and natural inventories when new projects are under review. It is one thing to sit in the office and talk in terms of policy and projects; it is another to have a complete grasp of project environments and visualize the reality of the canopy impact.

    Anyway, thanks for furnishing the videos. It is very interesting to view them, then consider their larger context.

    I am attaching today’s NYT article on the difficulty of re-populating a tree environment, once it has been eradicated.


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