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Dogs, Parks, and Trees

Though trees have some occassional run-ins with dogs & owners that can be harmful, there are benefits that far outweigh  any costs or risks. During the holidays we know that live Christmas trees (fir or pine) can be mildly toxic, mostly causing irritation to the stomach or mouth of dogs brave enough to taste them and rarely causing instestinal blockages to those who swallow the needles. The preservatives in Christmas tree water can also be dangerous so avoid allowing your dog access to the stand liquid. But other than these dangers & the very real threat of the cycads in our yards and on our streets (watch for these being misidentified in your home improvement store), most dogs suffer no ill effects from trees though some have allergies some dogs suffer from a few tree species. Most trees do them, and us, huge favors in the health department and for our neighborhood and the environment.

And, we have a lot of catching up to do. California is losing trees at an alarming rate. Last month, the US Forest Service revealed that by using an aerial study, they found our our state has lost an additional 36 million trees, bring-ing the total since the drought began in 2010 to 102 million trees lost in our state. And though the loss is felt greatest in forests and fire-ravaged neighborhoods far from here, we can contribute by nurturing our newest additions to our greenway and protecting the planet right here in South Park. Since the average tree can absorb up to 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide over its lifetime and even a young healthy tree has the daily net cooling effect of 20-hour-per-day cycles using 10 room-size air conditioners we can make an impact not only locally, but for our state and globally. The urban canopy in South Park’s Grape Street Dog Park directly contributes to meeting our city’s regulatory clean air goals. Following in her footsteps, we are continuing the tradition Kate Sessions began in Balboa Park’s committment to trees while also improving the health of ourselves and local animals of all types.

Dogs enjoying any new or existing trees at Grape Street Dog Park will benefit from the increased ability not only to cool and relax themselves, but also trees’ ability to promote greater physical exercise since trees lower outdoor tem-peratures and allow more activity for people and their pets to keep us all leaner & healthier than we’d be withouth trees. The leaves of trees not only reduce the radiant energy absorbed and stored in surfaces, they actually use evapotranspiration to convert liquid stored within them to vapor, thereby cooling the air. Trees and the plants that flourish beneath them add to and preserve the biodiversity of the park, giving birds and other small animals food, a place to nest or forage and protection from heat and predation while dogs get some enrichment & something mean-ingful to bark at! The shade the trees bring decreases UV exposure to protect from cataracts and skin cancers while the trees increase their respiratory health by absorbing gaseous pollutants (such as ozone and nitrogen oxides) through leaf surfaces and intercept particulate matter such as dust, ash, pollen and smoke. Their roots & nearby soil filter pollutants such as oil, fertilizers, pesticides and dog waste.  As we all likely experience, dogs and people are usually quite in tune with each other and I believe the findings that access to trees lowers eye strain, heart rates, blood pressure and relaxes brain wave patterns while sharpening concentration in people benefits not only their owners, but via similar effects likely exerts positive effects on canine physiology.

In addition to physiologic effects, trees have positive social and community effects. The community that plants and nurtures trees together also looks out for one another and our pets. Crime is actually lowered in areas with more urban landscape and the cool breeze under a tree is not only a great place to discuss local events but a great place to heal. In fact, hospitalized human patients with views of nature & time spent outdoors require less medication, slept better and were happier than those patients without the ability to connect with nature. The new bonds created by volunteers who planned our tree acquisition strengthens our community and forges new friendships while the trees can create jobs for skilled and unskilled workers to maintain and care for them. Kids can gain education and experience first-hand how trees grow & are nurtured, experiencing the biodiversity they preserve and maybe we can even inspire a budding botanist or urban planner. Nearby residents should surely appreciate any of the 3-7% increase well-treed neighborhood home values experience along with the up to 40% decrease in noise pollution trees can provide to protect from planes and trucks. Girls with views of nature at home scored higher on tests of self-discipline so the kids will enjoy more free time with the dog when studies are completed on time and surely the be-loved furred family members will appreciate any extra attention they get!

Those who remember the storm & floods of January 5th last year will have one more reason to celebrate our new trees: flood mitigation. A healthy urban greenway (or mini-forest) reduces the amount of runoff and pollutant loading in receiving waters. Trees receive and store rainfall on branch surfaces and leaves, storing it & delaying the onset of peak flows. Decomposition in soil and root growth resulting from trees & the micro-environments in their shelter increase the capacity and rate of soil absorption when heavy rainfall demands it. Through this and by reducing soil erosion & decreasing barren space, when trees are added flooding is mitigated. 

So let’s all give a big cheer & our gentlest attention to the newest trees at the Dog Park. Each one could someday remove as much carbon dioxide from the air as a car driven 26,000 miles could generate as a single mature tree absorbs 48 pounds of it per year; that’s using photosynthesis to make enough oxygen to support two people. Let’s limit barking at wildlife to brief moments of glee, remember the city prohibits tying dogs to the trees. Finally give each tree the respect & care our gracious community is uniquely able to provide.

For more information on the benefits of urban trees please visit canopy.com or read the Tree Guidelines for Coastal Southern California Communities by the Western Center for Urban Forest Research and Education at the US Forestry Service

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