By SARA QAMAR
Capital News Service
LANSING – More than 100 Michigan communities have been honored under the Tree City USA program that promotes the economic, health and aesthetic benefits of trees on public property.
Some benefits of trees, such as energy conservation and savings on heating and cooling costs, are important economic factors, said Department of Natural Resources (DNR) urban forestry program coordinator Kevin Sayers.
“Properly planted trees in areas that might shade a building or shade an air conditioning unit are seen to help a lot in energy savings. They can block cold winter winds and minimize heating costs during winter,” he said.
Trees can also affect the price of homes, he said.
“Real estate studies show that properties which have well-maintained landscapes and mature trees are worth more,” he said.
Alpena received its 12th Tree City USA designation this year, city engineer Rich Sullenger said.
It’s among 119 communities in the program this year. Others include Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Allegan, Brighton, Charlevoix, Big Rapids, Ionia and Rockford.
“There’s nothing prettier than looking down a tree-lined street in the summer. That’s a huge benefit to the community. Anytime I personally I see a tree, it’s a lot more pleasing than seeing a barren section of property,” Sullenger said.
Rockford, which was one of two new Michigan honorees this year, has had a longstanding comprehensive tree program which included planting 100 trees a year, city manager Michael Young said. The other is Clio.
Rockford is an older community that has expanded in recent years and has many mature trees, but citizens like greenery in newer developments as well, he said.
“It’s really important to blend our newer parts with the old parts, and trees are that common thread,” he said.
One program the city will start this year is purchasing and planting a tree for each baby born in Rockford, he said.
The tree most planted is the maple, which residents appreciate because of the different colors its leaves turn, Young said.
One of the chronic problems DNR deals with about the program is convincing communities to diversify their tree selections from maple.
Sayers said uniformity can cause diseases to spread more easily.
“I don’t promote planting any particular one. I encourage diversifying and planting the tree that’s right for the location,” he said.
Competition among neighboring communities and citizens’ grassroots efforts have helped the program grow in Michigan in the last 10 years, he said.
“There’s a growing sense of responsibility to do something in terms of environmental initiatives. Local citizens are working with the city to get this designation,” he said.
Tree City USA operated by the Arbor Day Foundation, a nonprofit group in Nebraska.
The program requires no application fee. The only condition is that communities spend $2 per resident on anything related to trees. That could include planting, annual leaf pickup, purchasing equipment and other care and management, he said.