Between nearly 150 years of Arbor Day and related lessons in the classroom, generations of Americans have grown up with the sense that planting a tree represents a good deed.

“You’re taught in science class that they absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen,” Jeff Winkle, Bethel Park interim planner, said. “They also help with stormwater management, stabilizing the flow and providing habitat for wildlife.”

As it turns out, much of that can be accounted for in dollar values.

Bethel Park contracted with Davey Resource Group Inc. of Kent, Ohio, for a municipal tree inventory analysis and management plan. Using an assessment tool developed by the U.S. Forest Service called i-Tree, Davey staff members were able to quantify relative values for arboreal tasks such as storing carbon, reducing stormwater runoff and removing pollutants from the atmosphere.

“The functions of Bethel Park’s inventoried tree population provide benefits with an estimated total value of $6,411.33 annually,” Davey’s report states. “The functions of the parks and public spaces’ inventoried tree population throughout its trees’ lifetimes are worth an estimated $1.3 million.”

The inventory took place in public spaces, including all municipal parks, with an overall count of 1,195 trees. Black cherry and black locust are the two most populous, accounting for nearly 35% of the total.

Members of Bethel Park Shade Tree Commission, established by ordinance in 2017, welcome the report as a means of generating support toward the goal of determining the municipality’s needs in connection with a planting, maintenance and removal program.

“Bethel Park was identified as one of the top five communities for tree canopy loss in all of Allegheny County,” commission member David Espinar said. “So it really was a call to action to look at this issue we’re having, with what is causing this type of problem in our community.”

Tree Pittsburgh, a nonprofit that encourages planting, conducted a canopy study for the 2011-15 time period, and the results showed Bethel Park as among the municipalities with the most acreage lost.

To help rectify the situation, the 15-year-old environmental organization awarded Bethel Park a grant of 300 trees, with a pair of plantings taking place so far at Neil Armstrong Middle School.

Espinar said two more such events are on the horizon, with 47 serviceberry trees earmarked for Memorial Elementary School and 17 pitch pines for Independence Middle School.

“It will leave us with a balance of 76 trees that we plan on planting throughout the community,” he said.

“We still are in the early stages of creating that vision.”

Regarding tree management, Davey’s report includes a recommendation for a five-year program, including removal and pruning of those that present risks, along with routine inspections and pruning cycle.

The recommended maintenance budget is listed at a minimum of $95,962 for the first year of implementation, $83,991 for the second and $14,050 for the final three.

“Getting started is the most difficult part because of the expensive maintenance in the first year, which represents the transition from reactive maintenance to proactive maintenance,” Davey’s report states.

“Significant investment early on can reduce tree maintenance costs over time.”

Multimedia Reporter

Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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