Va. Beach preserves the urban forest

Jordan Crawford | 9/26/2013, 11:31 a.m.
The Urban Forestry Strike Team conducted a mock hurricane drill in Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Portsmouth.

Hurricane season is still in progress. Everyone gets up in arms about the safety of their loved ones and other people, their homes, and personal belongings when a hurricane is threatening to strike. It is also necessary to worry about the safety of the landscape – trees in particular.

All of the trees within a town, suburb, or city make up the urban forest. This can include trees on streets, yards, cemeteries, parks, school grounds, and undeveloped green spaces.

The presence of trees in an urban setting is highly beneficial for the surrounding community. They reduce flooding, raise property values, and improve the quality of life for the people and wildlife dwelling among them.

More specifically, trees remove water and air pollutants through their leaves and root systems. Their canopies give shade to buildings, sidewalks, streets and other structures keeping them cooler which reduces air conditioning needs during the summer. On the other hand, strategically placed trees and the right tree species selection can shield buildings from cold winds during the winter, reducing heating needs.

Together, properly placed tree shielding can save an average household up to $250 annually in energy costs.

The affect urban areas have on trees, however, is detrimental. The environment and human actions can cause different stresses to urban trees, some of which include: restricted root-growth area, road-salt exposure, and soil moisture extremes. These stressful growing conditions can cause a decline in tree health and may eventually result in death, if not corrected in time.

Therefore, urban forestry experts, arborists, and landscape inspectors learned how to alleviate this demise in Virginia Beach last Tuesday. The city was selected by the Virginia Department of Forestry and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management to be the training site for urban forestry storm response.

Last Tuesday through Thursday, the Urban Forestry Strike Team conducted a mock hurricane drill in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Portsmouth. The City of Virginia Beach Department of Parks and Recreation’s Landscape Management Office served as the command center for the regional arboriculture exercise simulating response to a natural disaster involving widespread loss of trees in the city.

Personnel from Fairfax County and state forestry agencies in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia also participated in the practice drill.

While in uniform, Strike Team members conducted assessments of the trees that were “damaged or destroyed” by the mock hurricane. Along with handheld electronic equipment, some team members wore backpacks with GPS antennae that recorded exact locations of the trees they inspected.

“Drill participants sought the genealogy, size, and condition of about 1,000 trees, providing an inventory of the trees in our area,” said Susan French, city arborist with Virginia Beach Urban Forestry. “The drill was also important for us so that we could know how to contact the Strike Team after a natural disaster…Hampton Roads is very fortunate to have been selected.”

According to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, studies have even shown that exposure to trees reduces the symptoms of stress and depression, can aid in surgery recovery, and reduce the incidence of domestic violence.

Ultimately, Virginia Beach Parks and Recreation’s vision is a balanced, sustainable and value-focused system of parks, recreation and public spaces that creates a sense of togetherness.

Studies have found that people are more likely to exercise if a park is nearby. When people use parks and shady street trees, they are more inclined to meet and establish bonds with their neighbors.

Enjoying spending time in your neighborhood develops pride and a sense of ownership in your community.