Greener state, greener city

The recent passage and signing of landmark forest legislation will help protect the health and well-being of all Marylanders for generations to come. Maryland has made a commitment to "no net loss" of our state's forests — both urban and rural — starting right now. With this safeguard in place, we can be confident that Maryland's air will be cleaner, our native wildlife habitats will be richer, and the Chesapeake Bay will be healthier and more productive than they possibly could have been if we had failed to act.

For those of us working every day to make Baltimore an even better city in which to live, work, learn and play, much credit goes to our policymakers for recognizing that the state's forests do not end at the city limits. At the municipal level, mayoral efforts to bring new residents to urban centers will benefit greatly from this commitment. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has set a goal of bringing 10,000 new families to Baltimore, and the quality of life afforded by tree plantings and care will be a critical component of this plan.

A national task force convened by the U.S. Forest Service recently released a report, "Vibrant Cities & Urban Forests: A National Call to Action," the first of its kind to provide a roadmap for maximizing the innumerable and interrelated benefits — both obvious and subtle — that trees provide to city dwellers. For example, according to one USDA study, the net cooling effect of a healthy tree is equivalent to 10 room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day. If you plant a tree today on the west side of your home, in five years your energy bills can be 3 percent less. In 15 years, the savings will be nearly 12 percent.

Extensive research has shown that trees do more than reduce energy costs. They increase home values and help reverse the adverse effects of climate change. They cut smog, promote fitness, improve mental health, ease stress and reduce violence. Perhaps most significantly, Baltimore's trees filter pollutants from stormwater before it enters the Chesapeake Bay. Each benefit reinforces the fact that it's a mistake to think of maintaining our "urban forest" as a cost. Clearly, each dollar we spend on planting and caring for trees is an investment — and one whose payoff can be almost immediate. Research shows that over the life of a single tree, some $57,000 in economic and environmental benefit is provided.

That's why Mayor Rawlings-Blake has continued the pledge Martin O'Malley made when he was mayor: to double the city's tree canopy, by 2037, to 40 percent coverage. Today, our tree cover is estimated at 27 percent, which means we need to accelerate our efforts further. The Department of Recreation and Parks' Urban Forestry Division leads a committed group of government and community partners through the TreeBaltimore coalition to prioritize our tree planting opportunities and plant thousands of trees each year. Together, we organize volunteers; provide technical assistance, training and grants to tree planters; and coordinate research, marketing and fundraising activities. Last year, we increased the number of trees planted by more than 10 percent, from 7,400 in 2011 to 8,200 in 2012.

Everyone can play a part. When one tree dies or needs to come down, let's make sure to plant at least two more in appropriate sites. If you spot a city tree in distress, call 311 to report it. Help your community apply for a grant from the Parks & People Foundation, attend TreeBaltimore's TreeKeepers Workshop (administered by the Baltimore Tree Trust), or contact TreeBaltimore for a free tree. To meet our ambitious goal, many more trees need to be planted on private land, which could also qualify landowners for a stormwater credit toward their water bill.

By making these real commitments to trees, Maryland and Baltimore have become examples for the nation. Other states and cities will turn to our programs as models for theirs. As they watch our progress, now is the time to double down on our collective commitment to be sure that everyone in our community benefits from our work.

The General Assembly, Governor O'Malley, the state forester and a host of supporting organizations made this year's progress possible. Now, let's all commit to transforming the shared vision of a more vibrant Baltimore into a day-to-day reality. Because in the end, when you help a local tree, you help our entire community thrive.

Jacqueline M. Carrera (jackie.carrera@parksandpeople.org), president and CEO of the Parks & People Foundation, was a member of the national Vibrant Cities & Urban Forests Task Force. Erik M. Dihle (erik.dihle@baltimorecity.gov) is the Baltimore City arborist and chief of urban forestry for the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks.