Partnership plans to increase tree coverage in Macomb County

Officials: Southern portion of county especially needs additional green

By: Thomas Franz | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published May 18, 2016

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MACOMB COUNTY — Efforts are underway to begin making the southern tier of Macomb County a lot more green.

A recent survey completed by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) revealed that areas in the county south of the Clinton River average 10 percent tree canopy coverage. The suggested amount of coverage for good health, aesthetics and real estate value is 40 percent.

To begin reducing that difference, the county announced May 9 that it is starting the Green Macomb-Urban Forestry Partnership.

“What we discovered is the southern tier of Macomb County is the most densely populated area of southeast Michigan, and it was lacking in tree cover,” said Gerry Santoro, a program manager with the county’s Planning and Economic Development Committee.

The work of the partnership will occur through a grant from the U.S. Forestry Service and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. ITC Holdings, which operates high-voltage power lines, will match the grant.

The partnership made presentations to 11 communities in Macomb County May 9 to show what its goals are and how it could help communities improve tree coverage.

“We determined that in order for this part of the county to truly benefit from some of the opportunities that are out there that we would put a collaborative effort together,” Santoro said. “That will help facilitate better dialogue regarding tree plantings, the benefits of tree plantings, and also assist local governments in finding additional funds that might be available for urban forestry projects.”

One agency involved with the project will be the Six Rivers Land Conservancy. Chris Bunch, the executive director of the conservancy, said the 10 percent figure for tree coverage is not surprising, but it remains unacceptable.

“It’s been common practice to cut down some trees to get them out of the way, and people don’t have a lot of knowledge of what their actual function is in their community, what the benefits of forests are in their communities,” Bunch said.

Bunch added that benefits of greater tree coverage include air cleansing, reduced heating and cooling costs, and flood prevention.

“It alleviates sounds issues, and all of the wildlife that gets your attention — all of those things are sort of taken for granted or not recognized,” Bunch said. “When heat indexes are up, crime goes up, and trees tend to cool things and temper things a little bit, so the cumulative impacts will be pretty big.”

Bunch said most of the conservancy’s work in Macomb County has taken place in the northern half to preserve land, and this will be one of its first restoration projects in an urban area. 

“We hope to elevate our engagement with some more urban populations to have them recognize there’s lots of great natural assets right here, close to home. You don’t have to get in a car and drive three hours to get to nature. There’s a lot of it right here, and there’s a lot we can do to make more nature more accessible within our existing urban communities,” Bunch said. 

Santoro added that reaching out to private homeowners to begin implementing programs that would alleviate stormwater is a key goal of the partnership.

“If they’re planting the right trees in the right place for the right purpose, we’re going to help them figure out what those tree species could be, where they could buy them and how they could plant them,” Santoro said.

The partnership next plans to ask the local governments to participate in a survey to help officials figure out what their needs are before further evaluating their plans. Santoro said they plan on holding demonstrative plantings this fall. 

“We hope this continues in longevity, because it’s not going to happen overnight,” Santoro said. “I think the average (for canopy coverage) is 26 percent in Macomb County. We would like to get that up, but that’s going to mean tens of thousands of trees over many years.”