Plan will Protect $2.2 Million Public Trees on Near Northside

By Jon Sedey

Prior to Chicago’s budget crisis, and the disbanding of the Department on Environment, having the means to care for all of the city’s street trees has been difficult. Besides financial challenges, Chicago’s urban street trees have to survive in extremely harsh conditions, face vandalism and are subject to removal and relocation at a moment’s notice.

In order to protect these environmental assets, the Wicker Park Bucktown Special Service Area (SSA) #33 and the Wicker Park & Bucktown Chamber of Commerce created a long-term care plan for the urban trees. Completed in September, this plan is the first known comprehensive tree-care plan developed by a Chicago community.

“Our trees are so important to us that our community master plan calls for preserving and caring for our urban forest,” said SSA 33 representative David Ginople. “We already knew where all our public trees are and what species they are. But we wanted more. We wanted a plan for their long-term care.”

To develop the three-year plan, the SSA commissioned Bartlett Tree Experts, an international firm based in Stamford, CT.

“First we created a digital database with more than two dozen observations about the condition and surroundings of each of the community’s nearly 1,600 public trees,” said Erik Grossnickle, a certified arborist and representative with Bartlett Tree Experts. “We then assigned a treatment priority to each tree.”

Map of Wicker Park/Bucktown’s priority trees

Part of the three-year plan, was a current tree assessment where Bartlett estimated the value of each tree. The highest-value tree is a nearly 40-foot-tall honey locust located in the Chicago Park District’s Wicker Park. Its estimated value is $21,126. All together, the park and street trees are worth just over $2,204,101.

Besides aesthetics, there are economic rationales for promoting healthy urban forests. These reasons include a 7% higher rental rates for commercial spaces, increased community spending where streets have high-quality tree cover and increased home values.

Most importantly, the urban trees provide environmental services like summer cooling, trimming energy usage and cleaning air and water. The analysis found that the trees collect more than 1.1 million gallons of rainfall. This annual value of that service is $30,443.

The total dollar value of the Wicker Park/Bucktown urban forest’s annual energy conservation, air quality improvement, carbon dioxide reduction and storm water control is $119,856 or $75.81 per tree. “One day we’d love to be able to hang price tags around each of our trees to show the economic benefits of each of them,” said Ginople. “The City of Chicago and The Morton Arboretum did that downtown for Arbor Day last year, and it really hit home.”

Photo: lobstar28
Map: Bartlett Tree Experts

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