When most Capital Region residents think of a forest , they think of the Adirondacks, Catskills or, much farther from home, the rain forest . But the mature trees that grace the cities are also forests -- urban ones -- that, like the others, need to be managed sustainably. Developing a tree master plan, as Schenectady has already done and Saratoga Springs is now in the process of doing, is an important step toward sustainability.
Urban residents have long known that trees are nice to look at, sit under, be around. The region 's major parks, Central Park in Schenectady, Washington Park in Albany and Congress Park in Saratoga, all have large numbers of beautiful trees. But there's more to it than aesthetics. Trees have environmental benefits that are especially important to cities. They include filtering carbon dioxide from the air and producing oxygen, tempering the heat that radiates from all that concrete and asphalt, and catching runoff from those impermeable surfaces that would otherwise overburden storm sewers and result in water pollution.
That's why having them in parks isn't enough. Trees need to be plentiful througout the city -- in public places, on boulevard islands, on private lawns. And for the most part, in the Capital Region 's cities, they still are.
But they're also threatened -- by age and disease, as well as the power company's and city engineer's chainsaw and the developer's bulldozer -- and there needs to be a plan for saving them, replacing them if they are lost, and even planting more. That's what the non-profit group ReTree Schenectady has been doing for the past 20 years, and what New York City wants to do over the next 20 or so, with a plan to add 1 million new trees by 2035.
Saratoga Springs' effort is off to a good start. A tree inventory begun this spring by the group Sustainable Saratoga, with the help of a state grant, is now complete. The volunteers doing the inventory used GPS coordinates to locate every tree in the city, while also taking note of its species, size and condition, as well as the condition of surrounding infrastructure.
The next step is for the city to develop a tree master plan with the help of a local landscape architect it has hired.
Saratogians are interested, as evidenced by the 75 or so who attended a public forum at the library Tuesday to get an outline of the inventory and a general idea of the master plan. And they will have more opportunities to weigh in, with an online survey, a city-sponsored email address
(email@example.com ), and a first draft of the master plan available for public comment in February.
Save the (urban) forest .