Downtown Denver. Credit: Navreet Vaidwan

A recent U.S. Forest Service study published in Environmental Pollution indicates that America’s urban forests store up to 700 million tons of carbon, which is estimated to provide a $50 billion benefit. American Forests Science Advisory Board member David Nowak led the study at the agency’s Northern Research Station by looking at field data from 28 cities.

In the 486 urbanized areas in the United States, there is an overall population density of 2,534 people per square mile. With such densely concentrated urban populations, it’s important to continue funding the federal programs and research that invest in urban forests. There are several federal agency programs that do this. American Forests has worked with the Sustainable Urban Forests Coalition (SUFC) to advocate for funding these programs in FY 2014.

This cooperative program focuses on stewardship of natural resources in urban areas. UCF responds to the needs of urban areas and the people who live there by helping to maintain, restore and improve urban forests. In FY 2012, the UCF Program helped 7,499 communities in all 50 states by providing them with technical assistance, education, funding and research.

Invasive pests like the Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) are detrimental to trees in urban areas like New York, Boston and St. Paul. The Forest Health Management Program aids efforts to combat pests like ALB that impact urban and rural forests. The program coordinates the national management of pests, which includes the U.S. Forest Service, Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the National Association of State Foresters (NASF) and the National Plant Board (NPB).

There is still a lot of research to be done on urban forests to understand how they function and the many benefits they provide. Also, since urban areas are constantly changing, it’s important that urban foresters and managers are using the most updated research to inform their work. Work like the carbon storage study mentioned earlier is funded through Urban Natural Resources Research, part of the U.S. Forest Service’s Research and Development. Such research can provide useful information for local governments, businesses, decision makers and individuals that want to invest in and advocate for urban forests.

Urban forests help manage stormwater, water storage and pollution. This partnership brings together several federal agencies, in coordination with the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), to revitalize urban waterways and the communities around them. This work includes leveraging local resources and engaging local communities in water conservation efforts, pollution control, building recreation opportunities and promoting ways to keep urban waters clean.

Green infrastructure, like urban forests, not only helps us deal with increasing amounts of carbon emissions, but also with increased flood and storm risks, heat island effects and other climate change-related challenges. Investing in the health of urban forests means investing in the health of people. With more than 80 percent of Americans living in urban areas, urban forests and the programs that support them are becoming more and more important to our health and well-being.