How do Bath’s trees combat climate change?

Maine Partners Receive Grant to Understand How Urban Forests Can Help Towns Cope with Climate Impacts

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences and its partners a $93,000 grant to use urban and community forests to help towns adapt to increasing temperatures and rainfall associated with climate change. Only one award is given each year from the USDA National Urban Community Forestry Cost Share Grant Program for urban forestry projects.  It is an honor for Maine organizations to receive this grant.

Partners on the project include: City of Bath, Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust, Kennebec Estuary Land Trust, New England Forestry Foundation, Maine Forest Service – Project CANOPY, and USDA Forest Service.

These project partners will work together with the City of Bath and surrounding communities to develop a regional and national model demonstrating how urban trees and community forests can help make towns resilient to the effects of climate change. Without adapting to recent and future changes in weather, towns and communities increase their risk of paying for costly repairs. For example, on August 8, 2008, a “freak” storm in Freeport caused a $300,000 washout on one road that was the main access point for L.L. Bean’s distribution.

Alternatively, the project will reveal that a well-managed urban forest can show up on the books as an asset and reduce a town’s financing costs. Trees provide shade, keeping buildings cool in the summer and reducing energy costs. They intercept rain and reduce storm water runoff, protecting water supplies from more severe rainfall events. As trees grow, they remove CO2, the primary greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere. This project will do a thorough analysis of how trees are currently helping Bath be resilient to climate change, and recommend how Bath can better use its urban trees and forests to become even more resilient to the impacts of extreme weather. The project includes developing new funding sources to help pay for town improvements without using taxpayer dollars.
Storm water and stream crossing planning is heavily dependent on a 40 year-old document for estimating the frequency of 1, 10, and 100 year storm events. Data, subsequent to this document, show different patterns of storm event frequency. Although this change is consistent with climate change, it cannot be proven. Nonetheless, past storm water and stream crossing engineering is likely to be inadequate for the current weather trends and climate impact. At a minimum, cost-effective upgrades are needed that take into account the range of likely weather extremes. Urban and community forests provide a cost-effective opportunity for accomplishing this.
Andrew Whitman, Director of Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences’ Natural Capital Initiative based in Brunswick, said, “This project gives Maine a chance to showcase how towns can use trees and forests to reduce maintenance, heating, and cooling costs while helping cope with climate change. It’s bringing together several partner organizations, all combining their skills and resources to accomplish something that none of us could accomplish by working alone.” Whitman explained that larger U.S. cities (such as Chicago) are already using
trees to prepare for a changing climate. But throughout America, relatively little has been done for small towns such as Bath.
Jan Ames Santerre, Director of The Maine Forest Service’s Project Canopy, explained that what is learned in Bath can then be incorporated into technical resources for other towns in Maine, through Project Canopy. “We know the climate is changing in Maine. Trees grow slowly, so we need to start thinking now about how to maximize the potential role of our trees to keep energy costs low and water clean.”

Ray Sirois, Senior Associate at Wright-Pierce Engineers and presenter for asserts, “We don’t know how much our climate will change compared to historical records. But we do know with certainty the ways in which our climate is going to change here in New England; we are already seeing it. So, the smart investment in any city or town needs to assess our points of vulnerability, and to be pro-active in adapting our built environment in ways we know will build resilience and enhance the service life of our infrastructure for the next generation. While society used to think that caring for our infrastructure or ‘built environment’ was a separate exercise from caring for our ‘natural environment,’ more and more, these two activities are considered one and the same. The changing natural environment has huge impacts on the built environment, and vise versa. People are starting to realize we can’t separate one from the other, and this trend is easiest to see at the local level.”

Tom Hoerth, Bath City Arborist and Tree Warden, offers a reminder that “Maine is the most forested state in the Union, and increasingly under greater pressures. This project provides the means for communities and landowners to promote greater resiliency in their ‘green infrastructure.’ The project is designed to provide solutions using regional information that is transferable to many communities. Bath is pleased to be part of this effort to bring its community forest into greater focus, and to help play a role in furthering similar awareness in other communities.”
One of the unique aspects of this project is the broad array of stakeholders involved in the effort. Angela Twitchell, Executive Director of the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust, says, “Climate change is one of our community’s biggest challenges because of the threat it poses to the ecosystems upon which we depend. We hope that we can increase the number of tools in our local municipality’s toolboxes by identifying how urban forest can be used to safeguard against climate change impacts.”