What’s Suddenly So Important About Trees

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The live oak tree allée outside the proposed Frost Bank Tower on Houston Street. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

The live oak tree allée will be maintained as part of the Frost Bank Tower's design on Houston Street.

Trees have a positive impact on the environmental, social, and economic aspects of our world. They are a part of our everyday lives, and no matter how hard we try, we can never escape their presence. They improve the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink. They lower air temperatures in the scalding Texas summers we endure, making things a bit more bearable, and they lower greenhouse emissions. Trees are the providers of shade on a sunny day and the barrier that protects us from the cold in winter. They are home to a multitude of species and a resource to humans in ways we take for granted.

How We Protect Trees Through Ordinances

In 1997, the City of San Antonio established an official Tree Preservation Ordinance. The goals of the Landscaping and Tree Preservation Ordinance are to enhance the aesthetic environment, to provide health benefits to our community, and to continue to provide elements essential to establishing and maintaining a strong ecosystem.

In 2010, City Council unanimously agreed to double the mitigation fees to encourage property owners to leave trees in the ground. The City Council also voted to implement a program that would increase the tree canopy from 38% to 40% which meant planting 454,600 new trees. This was based on recommendations from the “Urban Ecosystem Analysis – San Antonio”, an American Forest report. Tree canopy goals outlined in the report would help the City meet its stated environmental and quality of life goals, including federal and local clean air and water regulations.

Many Texas municipalities established Tree Ordinances decades ago to maintain, preserve, and add to the existing tree population, which have proven positive environmental, social, and economic impacts. Currently, there are approximately 50 Texas cities with local tree preservation ordinances, including Abilene, Austin, Dallas, Helotes, Houston, Rockwall, Rowlett, San Antonio, and San Marcos.

Read the City of San Antonio Tree Ordinance here.

What’s Happening Now

The Texas Legislature is currently voting on 20 items during its special session. One of the items still pending includes revoking local municipalities’ right to enforce local city tree ordinances.

The constitutionality of municipal tree ordinances was originally addressed in Senate Bill SB 782. Recent opposition of local tree ordinances in Texas assert that property owners’ rights are being violated, contending that it is unconstitutional to enforce tree ordinances on private property, both commercial and residential. They also propose restricting local municipalities from enforcing tree preservation mitigation or mitigation fees.

Trees have a positive impact

Environmentally
  • Improve air quality
  • Lower air temperature
  • Reduce solar radiation
  • Reduce surface temperatures of buildings
  • Mitigate urban heat island effect
  • Lower greenhouse gas emissions
  • Remove pollution from the atmosphere
  • Reduce stormwater runoff
  • Reduce soil erosion
  • Improve water quality
  • Provide shade in spring and summer
  • Serve as wind barriers in the winter
Socially
  • Promote walkability
  • Promote socialization in communities
  • Provide aesthetic value
  • Provide habitats for many species
  • Communities with trees report lower crime rates/rates of vandalism
  • People in communities with trees have lower stress levels
Economically
  • Reduce energy consumption, thus lowering utility bills
  • Increase property resale values
  • Increase property occupancy rates
  • Lower employee absenteeism rates
  • Lead to increase productivity

How You Can Help

While each individual cannot cast a personal vote, everyone has the ability to get involved. The internet is the first place to go. Using the Texas Legislature online website, you can gather all the information you will need including identifying who your representative is and how to reach them. With this information, you can call or email your local representative if you are in support or opposition of local municipalities having the right to enforce Tree Ordinance. By contacting them and voicing your opinion, you can help them to represent you to the best of their ability. Regardless of your stance on the tree ordinance, stay tuned to what is happening in your city.

To urge your representative to leave the ordinance as it is, download an example template letter here.

For those outside of Texas, stay updated on news in your local area. To find your representative, click here.

 

5 thoughts on “What’s Suddenly So Important About Trees

  1. Just a minor quibble: trees don’t actually lower greenhouse emissions. They can only help ameliorate such emissions.

    • Hi Kim,
      Trees sequester carbon emissions. There have been estimates that one mature tree can absorb up to 48lbs a year, depending on species, age and location. Perhaps I should restate to say trees mitigate greenhouse emissions. Thanks!

  2. Sandra Montalbo: I would love to have some more information about trees in San Antonio. Was there ever a survey done by district or neighborhood in San Antonio that estimates the amount of tree cover that currently exists? I guess I’m wondering which areas are most in need of more trees. Also, did the city every plant those 464,500 trees? And if so, how many are still growing and how many died? In other words, how effective was this program to plant trees? Is it ongoing? I’d appreciate any information you can give me on this. Thanks.

  3. Hi Kim,
    The map of Texas in this article shows the canopy percentages by county was
    created thru http://www.communitycommons.org which showed County levels. Mostly because I wanted to provide context of how San Antonio’s tree canopy compared to other counties in Texas.

    If you want to more details for San Antonio, you go to
    http://www.sasustainabilityplan.com/files/managed/Document/153/SA%20Climate%20Vulnerability%20Assessment%20Final%20February%202016.pdf

    Figure 18. Urban Canopy for San Antonio and surrounding areas.
    also you might want to look at this in conjunction with
    Figure 19. Tree Canopy and relative social vulnerability for Bexar County
    and
    Figure 16. Urban Heat Island Effect (pg 23)

    Hope this helps!

  4. The political rhetoric about the Attorney General’s opinion is way over the top. It totally and intentionally misrepresents what the opinion actually says. The opinion states nothing new in the area of regulatory takings, does not remotely state when read in context, tree ordinances result in a taking of private property without just compensation in violation of the state constitution. It merely re states longstanding principles from case law that is over 25 years old.

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