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Northern Michigan Trees Add Bark to the Bite in Michigan’s Economy

Trees Fall Colors
Tree Economy
Trees Economy

Fall color tours are a big driving force for the Michigan tourist economy, but the trees themselves are also playing a big role.

“This time of year is a perfect time to talk about the importance of trees as we’re all ‘ooh-ing’ and ‘aah-ing’ as we drive around our wonderful northern Michigan,” says Kama Ross, Retired District Forester for the Conservation Districts in Grand Traverse, Leelanau and Benzie counties.

The DNR is releasing a first-of-its kind study aimed at the economic value of what’s known as “urban and community forestry,” proving that the trees are more than just something fun to look at.

“Our urban forestry community and certified arborists and the tree care professionals that take care of our urban trees are a vibrant part of our community,” Ross says.

The DNR says a new federally-funded study shows the overall economic impact of urban and community forestry is about $2.5 billion.

“We know those benefits come back to us multiple ways. Not just economically but for people’s health and well-being,” Ross says. “If we really want to invest in our community, in addition to the infrastructure and all the construction that goes on, we need to make sure that our landscape reflects that importance we place on our emotional and physical well-being. And trees are center of it all.”

It’s about more than just community tree planting and local government efforts. The DNR also says the Urban Forest Economy also includes things like landscaping businesses, nursery services, and even garden supply stores. Jason Hobson with Lightning Turtle Landscapes says, “I’m a smaller landscape business… so if we’re doing an entire landscape plan then I’m bringing in some trees whether they be just ornamental or maple or birch or spruce that grow to 70 feet tall.”

“You talk to any tree care professional they are extremely busy year round now. And growing businesses like crazy here in northern Michigan,” Ross adds. Whether it’s moving rocks, installing water features or planting trees, Lightning Turtle Landscapes agrees that trees bring value to a property, too. “You go into a site that’s been depleted of all the trees, if they’ve clear cut something whether it’s a subdivision or commercial property… bringing in trees to a landscape helps not only give shade but also gives more habitat for birds, insects. As well as creating aesthetics,” Hobson says.

The DNR says urban forestry provides more than 20,000 jobs with a payroll of about $75 million. Other “related jobs” add another 7,000 workers to the tally – and bring the payroll in Michigan over $1 billion. The DNR cites the regional study funded by the federal government and focused on states that belong to the Northeast-Midwest State Foresters Alliance.

“It’s a lifetime commitment to make sure those trees are well cared for. Whether they’re pruning or watering or fertilizing. We just all need to be good stewards,” Ross says.

The benefits of trees come back to us in in multiple ways. The study also shows that trees in urban areas provide more than $135 million in ecosystem services – like reducing stormwater and reducing air pollution. By taking a load off city storm sewers, trees can help reduce the cost of maintaining those systems.

“You’re able to create essentially a microclimate there, and you’re benefitting the whole area,” Hobson says.

Hobson points to Traverse City as a Tree City, USA. “We are a Tree City, and the City of Traverse City does a really good job of trying to help preserve that.”  The City’s Director of Public Services, Frank Dituri, says “Our tree canopy for the city is above average for most Michigan cities. We’ve been a Tree City, USA for 30+ years in a row. And we recognize all the benefits that trees provide for the ecosystem, stormwater runoff, and more.”

“We have a certified staff arborist for the first time in history,” adds Parks and Recreation Superintendent Michelle Hunt. “Most of the trees have their own data layer and we try to track tree health. That’s our approach to managing the urban canopy, and each individual tree in the city. The community can get involved in that too, through.”

The DNR says the study is separate from, and in addition to, the $22 billion that the forest products industry contributes to Michigan’s economy.

To learn more about urban and community forestry from the DNR, .

For the full Traverse City Tree Report, .

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