In defense of trees, shade and local control

Photo by Todd Wiseman

As a sixth-generation Texan, I love my home for its independent spirit and natural beauty. I am proud to live in a place that recognizes the value of our urban forest and takes its preservation seriously. Unfortunately, Gov. Greg Abbott and his Republican cronies have made it their mission to revoke tree preservation ordinances in communities throughout Texas. This is a foolish, short-sighted idea that would be devastating to local communities across the state; it should never have been floated by the "party of small government" and "local control."

Abbott claims Austin violated his property rights by requiring him to replace a protected tree he removed, but I have not heard him explain why he believes this. Municipalities have been regulating private property for decades. Why does the governor not decry the "communistic" regulation of electrical contractors? Or zoning regulations?

Trees provide valuable infrastructure services. Further, one 20-inch-diameter tree provides exponentially more benefits than ten two-inch trees. When we remove trees, we must use tax money to replace mechanically what the trees do naturally. We must collect and clean more stormwater runoff; we must provide more electricity (and deal with the associated emissions) to cool buildings that lose shade; and we must repair or replace outdoor pavements and other materials degraded by UV damage.

There are also benefits that are harder to quantify. Environmentally speaking, trees remove carbon dioxide from the air and store the carbon in their wood, reducing the greenhouse effect. They remove pollution from air, which helps avoid the need for stricter federal controls on emissions. They control loss of soil through erosion. They provide valuable habitat to wildlife, helping to preserve the natural ecosystem we all rely on to live.

In the social realm, trees increase property values and attract consumers, stimulating the economy and increasing municipal tax bases. They create tourist income and recreational opportunities. Neighborhoods with trees report less crime than those without. Public health benefits include reduced stress and enhanced mental health. People in hospitals recover more quickly when exposed to trees. And, of course, trees are a significant part of what many communities love about their hometowns.

Over 50 municipalities in Texas, large and small, have decided tree preservation is an important goal that justifies the minor loss to individual property rights. Revoking ordinances would not only reflect Big State Government trampling the wishes of citizens; it would also be catastrophic to many city budgets and to their quality of life. The state should allow communities the right to regulate themselves, and to invite people who don't like a town's rules to live elsewhere. 

Keith Babberney

Master arborist