About 18 months ago, I wrote an article explaining the economic impact of the forest industry on Florida. The amount was impressive – 124,000 jobs and over $25 billion pumped into our economy. Forestry is the largest agricultural industry in the state. But there is another aspect of forestry which often is not considered by the general public — urban forestry. Trees and urban forests are increasingly recognized as a critical component of the urban infrastructure, just as streets, bridges and utilities. More than 130 million acres of America’s forests are located in urban areas consisting of parks, street trees, greenways, gardens, river corridors, wetlands, nature preserves, utility rights-of-way and other “islands” of green.
Urban forestry is not an oxymoron, but is the management of the collective tree canopy within an urban area — both individual trees and tree populations. Many cities have an urban forester who is charged with the management of the green resources within the city. Many “dirt foresters” scoff at the idea of urban forestry, but in reality, many of the management practices to maintain an urban forest are similar to those “in the woods.” Urban trees are planted in the hopes of growing larger, felled when they are dead or dying, fertilized to stimulate growth, pruned when needed and sometimes used for “forest products” such as mulch or firewood when felled.
Urban forestry encompasses many disciplines and activities, including nursery production, landscape services, utility line vegetation management, landscape architecture, tree equipment and product manufacturing and wholesale and retail distribution of trees and tree care products.
To determine the economic impact of our state’s urban forest, the Florida Forest Service conducted a survey in 2018 to gather information on urban forestry business enterprises, employment, sales and market channels. Over 9,000 surveys were mailed to people and businesses and 1,248 responses were received. Total economic contributions were estimated using a regional economic model that enables calculation of multiplier effects that capture direct employment, spending and revenues, supply chain purchases and induced effects such as taxes generated and personal income taxes paid.
The total impact is significant. The survey revealed that the industry employs more than 80,800 people in full-time and part-time jobs. The largest employment segments are landscape services (more than 51,000), municipal governments (9,600), nursery production (7,300), wholesale trade (7,000), landscape architecture (3,100) and retail garden stores (1,400). Total state and local taxes generated were $344 million, which includes sales taxes and property taxes. Taxes generated to the federal government total $758 million and include personal income taxes, social security taxes and corporate profits.
Urban forests are also dynamic ecosystems which provide significant environmental services. These include shade, carbon sequestration, stormwater runoff reduction by filtering water through tree roots, release of oxygen, wildlife habitat, pollution mitigation, improving human comfort, reducing the impact of “heat islands” (increased temperatures due to reflected heat from buildings and impervious surfaces), cooling buildings and reducing air conditioning costs and reducing noise. Trees also add beauty to urban areas through their form, flowers or fall colors; provide places to recreate; reduce stress; and add value to real estate. The environmental benefits of the 15.2 million urban trees in Florida are estimated to total $1.394 billion annually, or $92.01 per tree.
Eric H. Hoyer is a certified arborist, a certified forester, a registered consulting arborist and a qualified tree risk assessor with Natural Resource Planning Services Inc. He can be contacted at email@example.com.