Ever Green

By Lois Taylor

Friday, April 25, 1997

Composite photo ByCraig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
The trees that shade Manoa Valley streets add beauty and value
to the properties, cool the neighborhood and even trap pollutants.

Branching out
beyond shade

KOOL it. That was the message of the conference, "Keep Kool Hawaii: An Innovative Look at Trees in the Urban Landscape." The guest speaker was Gary Moll, vice president of Urban Forestry at American Forests, the nation's oldest citizen conservation organization.

The April 16 conference was sponsored by a clutch of local government and business concerns along with private conservation groups. They ranged from The Outdoor Circle to Hawaiian Electric Co., two entities that do not always see eye to eye.

Moll talked by telephone from his Washington, D.C., office earlier this month about the urban landscape. Trees, it seems, are the aspirin of the environment. They can do a little bit of everything, and all of it good.

Consider the city of Tucson in the Arizona desert, Moll said. "Tucson is a very dry place. Several years ago, their water department got so concerned about water use in landscaping that they promoted the removal of trees, replacing them with cactus and rocks.

"They found out that this made the area hotter, and while it cut down on water use in landscaping, it greatly increased the water use in generating electricity." People were using much more energy to cool their houses which had previously been shaded by trees, so they were using more water than they ever had. Tucson went back to the trees.

The mistake might have been avoided if Tucson had taken advantage of the computer program Moll introduced here. CITYgreen trademarked software is able to analyze specific sites and make landscaping recommendations based on future projections. It would have foreseen that replacing Tucson's trees with rocks was not a kool idea.

The green in CITYgreen refers not only to trees and landscaping but to greenbacks. "Part of the process is to figure out how to look at an urban ecosystem and put dollar benefits on natural resources," Moll said. Trees on a property usually add to its value, provided it's the right tree in the right place.

For the local conference, Moll worked on aerial photographs of central Kapolei which were sent to him in Washington, D.C. They were fed through the computer program to find out if the best use is being made of the natural resources of the development.

"The big problem is that we may come up with a solution that makes sense from one point of view, but we might miss the local conditions. We might approach the problem from the wrong way. It takes local experts who know the ecosystems, the economy, the politics and the cultural considerations," he said.

"The trees at Kapolei are very young. We have information on tropical species and we know how they will grow. We can 'grow' them over time on the computer and know how they'll look in 20 years.

"The program is not specifically trees, but trees are the largest things growing and you can't grow big trees without good soil. The permeability (the ease with which water can diffuse through the soil) is important.

"Even the colors of the roofs and the surface of the roads affect heat. Light colors reflect, dark colors soak up heat. Light colored roofs make a difference, and guys keep telling me that macadam roads don't have be black."

The computer technique was developed five years ago, and has been refined and downscaled in price since then. "Originally, we spent $25,000 for the software and $40,000 for the hardware, and it took a computer geek to run it. Now for about $800 you can put the program on a desk top."

If the right trees are planted in appropriate places, they won't have to be hacked through for utility wires or shed slippery flowers on the sidewalk that invite lawsuits.

There are all kinds of good reasons to plant trees. Psychologists say that they soothe and relax us, and enhance our sense of privacy and solitude. Meteorologists say that by providing shade and releasing moisture, trees ease the buildup of heat in urban areas and block the glare from the sun.

Conservationists say that trees trap and hold dangerous pollutants, reduce soil erosion and provide food and shelter for a variety of wildlife. Landscape architects use trees to screen unsightly views and to absorb and block noise. CITYgreen goes along with all of this, but keeps its eye on the bottom line. Trees reduce air-conditioning costs, reducing dependency on oil. They increase property values, they attract tourists and some of them supply valuable products like fruit, nuts and lumber.

Remember, though, that trees, like shopping centers and marriage, are easier to get into than out of. When you plant a tree from a 5-gallon can remember that it could grow to 60 feet and the roots could rip up your lanai.

Before you plant, look around the neighborhood and find out which trees are best for your lot. As the poem goes, "Only God can make a tree," but it takes an expensive contract with a tree surgeon to unmake one.

Gardening Calendar

Send queries along with name and phone number to: Evergreen by Lois Taylor, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu 96802. Or send e-mail to features@starbulletin.com. Please be sure to include a phone number.

Evergreen by Lois Taylor is a regular Friday feature of the
Honolulu Star-Bulletin. © 1996 All rights reserved.


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