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Arboreal Austin: Forest Service publishes first urban forest assessment

Researchers estimated Austin's trees minimize heating and cooling costs by $18.9 million annually.
By Brooks Hays   |   March 9, 2016 at 5:13 PM

AUSTIN, Texas, March 9 (UPI) -- For the first time, the U.S. Forest Service has published an urban forest assessment. The report details tree life in Austin, the capital of Texas.

In 2014, as part of the USFS Forest Inventory and Analysis program, ecologists began studying tree plots in Austin and quantifying the benefits they provide the urban environment. This week's report, over 60 pages long, is a culmination of their work.

Trees help clean the air, sequester carbon and curb energy use. According to the report, the environmental benefits of Austin's canopy is worth some $34 million.

"We found that throughout the city, an estimated 33.8 million trees provide a canopy cover of 30.8 percent, which in turn provides a wide range of important benefits," David Nowak, lead author of the new report and a research forester with the Forest Service Northern Research Station, said in a news release.

Trees help filter both water and air, curbing air pollution and minimizing storm water runoff. These benefits improve human health and diminish the pressure on water treatment plants. By providing shade, trees help regulate temperature and reduce the amount of energy used by air condition units in the summer. During colder months, trees block frigid winds.

Researchers estimated Austin's trees minimize heating and cooling costs by $18.9 million annually.

In addition to quantifying the environmental services provided by Austin's trees, the new report offers new details on tree species, distribution and forest health.

Researchers say the report only offers a snapshot, and that environmental monitoring requires long-term commitment. Future reporting will help ecologists determine how Austin's trees are affected by insect and disease infestations, invasive trees and plants, loss of aging trees, population growth, evolving forest management strategies and other changes.

"While data from this report captures the urban forest resource and the benefits the city and its people derive from it, future monitoring is necessary to show how it's changing over time," said Tom Brandeis, study co-author and research forester with the Forest Service Southern Research Station FIA unit. "For now, managers can use these data as a baseline to inform long-term management plans and policies needed to sustain a healthy urban forest and the benefits it provides."

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