Tropical rain forests of the world are being cut down or burned down at an alarming rate, but they are not the only places where trees are in trouble. Salt Lake City's own "urban forest" is slowly diminishing because of city budget problems.
There are about 47,000 trees on parking strips and other city property. The city forester removes more than 800 trees a year - sometimes more than 1,000 - that have died, been damaged, or are suffering from disease or neglect.Even that removal rate does not keep up with the problem. Residents who call to have a diseased or damaged tree removed or pruned may have to wait up to 12 months for the job to be done.
Roughly half the urban forest - some 23,000 trees - are in poor to dying condition. The forester estimates it would take 1,300 trees planted each year to renew the urban forest, yet only about 400 a year are being planted. There are 17,000 sites that need trees but don't have them.
Clearly, if this continues, Salt Lake City's urban forest is going to start looking like an asphalt desert.
Trees enjoy better health and last longer if they are trimmed every seven to 10 years. But with limited funds and manpower, only 1,800 are trimmed each year. That means 25 years to get around to each tree.
The city forester needs more funds, but the opposite has been happening. The $408,000 forestry budget is $11,000 less than last year.
It would take another $150,000 a year to go from crisis management to systematic management of the urban forest, obviously an impossible sum. So what can be done?
First, officials ought to make the greening of Salt Lake City a priority and increase its forestry budget at least by some small amount.
Second, private citizens need to support the planting of more trees. It takes about $48 to buy, plant and care for a new tree. The city forester would be glad to point out plenty of sites. Schoolchildren raise a little money every year for this purpose. A few dollars from adults would help.
The city's tree-lined streets have been a source of beauty and pride since pioneer times. Trees help cool the city in summer and help reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
There needs to be a commitment to putting more trees back into the city's landscape and taking better care of the ones already there.