Checking In: Hold That Chainsaw, Please

 By Catharine Cooper.

By Catharine Cooper.

Let’s talk trees – since they seem to be the target of pending city legislation that will signal their doom.

The recent elimination of towering ficus in the downtown area and the charge of the View Equity Committee to reduce any offending tree to 8’, strikes hard at the heart of our synergistic partners in managing air quality.

How do we benefit from trees?

The following are a few facts that need to be incorporated into our on-going conversation about how we manage our arbor concerns in Laguna.

•     Trees produce oxygen.

•     They filter air pollutants such as carbon dioxide (CO2) ((carbon sequestration)), carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide .

•     They cool the air and ground around them, thus doing their part in cooling the earth’s temperature.

•     A single yard tree can absorbed as much as 1.25 tons of CO2 during its lifetime.  According to the Arbor Day Foundation, “a mature leafy tree produces as much oxygen in a season as 10 people inhale in a year.”

•     “On average, one tree produces early 260 pounds of oxygen each year.  Two mature trees can provide enough oxygen for a family of four,” says the Canadian Environmental Agency.

•     “One acre of trees annually consumes the amount of carbon dioxide equivalent to that produced by driving an average car for 26,000 miles. That same acre of trees also produces enough oxygen for 18 people to breathe for a year,” according to Arbor Environmental Alliance.

•     Planting 30 trees per person will help remove each that person’s carbon debt for the year, the federal Environmental Protection Agency estimates.

•     Trees reduce topsoil erosion, prevent harmful land pollutants from getting into waterways, slow down water run-off, and ensure groundwater supplies are continually replenished. For every 5% of tree cover added to a community, storm-water run-off is reduced by approximately 2%, figures the U.S.  Forestry Service.

•     In 50 years one tree recycles more than $37,000 worth of water, provides $31,000 worth of erosion control, $62,000 worth of air pollution control, and produces $37,000 worth of oxygen, the forest service says.

•     The net cooling effect of a young, healthy tree is equivalent to ten room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

•     Well-placed trees help cut energy costs and consumption by decreasing air conditioning costs 10-50% and reducing heating costs as much as 4-22%, the forest service estimates.

•     A mature tree can often add an appraised value of between $1000 and $10,000, says the Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers.

•     Trees are good noise barriers, making neighborhoods quieter places to live, points out the Virginia Green Industry Council.

•     Trees enhance the aesthetics of our environment. Their grandeur, tenacity, and beauty are probably the most enjoyable aspect of trees.

•     Trees flower, change colors, and add beauty to our community landscapes.


•     Trees provide privacy, highlight views or screen them, and reduce glare.

•     Trees help prevent city flooding by catching raindrops and offsetting runoff caused by buildings and parking lots. One large tree can intercept more than 1000 gallons of water annually.

•     Trees save energy and money. A 25-foot tree reduces annual heating and cooling costs of a typical residence by 8 to12 percent, an average monthly savings of $10 per American household, according to the Urban Forestry Network.

•     Trees save tax dollars. Trees in a city slow or reduce storm water runoff, thus reducing the load on storm sewers.

•     Trees improve water quality. Tree canopies intercept rainfall, which reduces the amount of uncontrolled run-off that flows into our ocean.

•     Trees attract customers. In a survey done in one American community, 74% of the public expressed clear preference for commercial establishments that make creative use of trees.

•     Trees boost occupancy rates. In one study of 30 architecture and design variables, results suggested that landscape amenities have the highest correlation to occupancy rates.

So before we cut down more trees, let’s think long and hard about the overall value – not just to the monetary value of a view – but the total commitment of our community to its environmental health.


Catharine Cooper is a lifelong resident of Laguna Beach.  While a member of the ESC, the views shared in this column are strictly her own. Reach her at [email protected]

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