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Community needs its trees

As Salisbury officials, Tree Board members and the business community look at new proposals to better protect the local tree canopy, they appear to be moving toward a balance that preserves more greenery without subjecting developers to an unreasonable regulatory thicket.
That’s a delicate balance, but finding it is important for two kinds of atmospheres — the one in which businesses have to operate and the one we breathe. Air quality remains a serious issue in Rowan County, which is part of a federal non-attainment zone that has failed to meet clean air guidelines, primarily because of high ozone levels. Monitoring stations in Rowan also have recorded some of the state’s highest pollution readings, and that can affect the area’s economic health, as well as the health of individuals. Trees help clean the air, along with providing other benefits.
The new proposal doesn’t ban clearcutting, but it would increase — to 30 percent — the tree canopy that must be preserved or replaced. It also may set a timetable — yet to be firmed up — on how long cleared land can lie undeveloped before requiring the developer to begin replanting trees. Another proposal would require a permit for clearcutting parcels 3 acres or larger. Those regulations, while reasonable, inevitably add costs to development. But when trees are lost, there are costs to the community. A single tree can absorb 50 pounds of ozone-forming carbon dioxide each year, while releasing enough oxygen to sustain two humans. Trees reduce storm run-off, help control erosion and provide natural cooling — an effect especially appreciated in Southern summers. Preserving and, where possible, expanding tree canopy is one of our most cost-effective ways of maintaining a healthy environment.
Protecting the tree canopy and promoting growth shouldn’t be viewed as warring goals. The built environment and the natural environment need to work together in ways that enhance the economy as well as our quality of life. Conversely, we’ve seen the potential consequences — the near clearcutting of Spencer Woods, controversy over the clearing of YMCA property off Milford Drive — when trees (and adjacent neighbors) are left to stand alone, with too little forethought for the longterm impact of altering the landscape.
It’s noteworthy that some of our area’s recent commercial projects would either meet or even exceed these new proposals. Savvy developers are attuned to the value of trees, green space and buffering vegetation. Rather than impeding commercial development, a well-crafted tree plan can help make growth more sustainable and our community more livable.

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