by Myles Ritchie, Graduate Intern
Natural, beautiful and majestic: these are the characteristics defining the many varieties of Exceptional Trees throughout Hawai`i. From koa to monkeypod, this state is fortunate to have trees that are not only aesthetically pleasing, but extremely beneficial to society.
Knowing the location and physical characteristics of the various exceptional trees across the state is crucial to documenting and understanding the benefits of protecting our urban trees. In response to this need, The Outdoor Circle has begun a statewide Exceptional Tree Mapping (ETM) project which aims to do just this with the hopes of maintaining and increasing the beauty of Hawaii.
Benefits of Exceptional Trees
In an ever-increasing urbanized environment, the need for trees (especially exceptional ones), has never been more apparent. In such urban areas, trees can help offset the heat island effect by reducing the average air temperature under a tree’s canopy by 5-10°F and the surface temperature of a paved road by 35°F. Furthermore, these trees are able to not only remove increasing levels of carbon dioxide from our atmosphere and replace it with oxygen, but also other harmful pollutants such as: carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide. Trees are also able to prevent stormwater runoff, which is a significant vector for pollutants in streams and nearshore waters. Reducing stormwater runoff occurs as a result of the increase in available permeable surfaces that trees provide when compared to alternatives such as paved roads. The roots of trees also hold valuable topsoil in place, which is essential to the tree’s survival, along with the ability to facilitate future growth of vegetation in the area.
Aside from the benefits trees provide for the environment, they are also helpful when it comes to the mental and physical well-being of humans. Countless studies have shown that surrounding oneself with trees and other natural settings improvements: cognitive function, learning capabilities (especially in children) and memory skills. These studies have also shown that exposure to natural environments reduces stress levels and reduces depression symptoms as effectively as anti-depressants. Most interestingly, studies show that having access to this natural resource helps to facilitate community interaction and involvement.
The Exceptional Tree Act
Established in 1975 with the help of The Outdoor Circle, the Exceptional Tree Act designates an exceptional tree as “a tree, stand or grove of trees with historic or cultural value, or that by reason of age, rarity, location, size, aesthetic quality or endemic status, designated by a county arborist advisory committee as worthy of preservation”. Currently there are over 1000 exceptional trees throughout the Hawaiian Islands; with more about to be added to the registry when Bill 84 adopted by the Honolulu City Council. While the majority of these trees reside on Oahu (926), each of the other major islands also hosts many exceptional trees. Though large, this number does not reflect the many trees in Hawaii that are worthy of exceptional tree status. It is critical to add new exceptional trees to the list through the nomination process.
The nomination process for exceptional trees is a fairly easy process to complete and offers incentives for homeowners wishing to nominate a tree on their property. The first step is for landowners to fill out a tree nomination form. Then, a certified city arborist assesses the tree and the Arborist Committee makes a recommendation to the County Council on whether to recognize the tree. Once approved by County Council, a tree owner can receive a tax break of up to $3,000 every three years. Additional information about the nomination process, as well as county nomination forms are available at this link.
The Exceptional Tree Mapping Project
In response to the need for an interactive map that can be easily accessed by the general public, as well as a database consisting of useful information related to the state’s exceptional trees, The Outdoor Circle has begun its Exceptional Tree Mapping project. Over the next several months, each tree will be verified and data from each tree will be gathered. This process involves physically visiting each registered tree and obtaining various characteristics including: geographic coordinates, height, circumference, condition and any other notable facts when available (year planted, who planted it, etc…). This data is complied into our open-source ETM database. Click here to see the map and learn more about our process.
We need your help
The Outdoor Circle is looking for community support to gather data about these exceptional trees. For those wishing to volunteer, click here, which includes a PDF of how to obtain data in the field, as well as a FAQ section.
The Outdoor Circle will be holding an Exceptional Tree Map volunteer training exercise on Saturday, February 28, 2015 at 9 am outside of the Iolani Palace Band Stand. For those wishing to attend this exercise, please RSVP by emailing TreeMap@outdoorcircle.org and prepare to have an exciting couple hours learning about ground-truthing and other aspects of conducting fieldwork!
With the completion of the Exceptional Tree Map, The Outdoor Circle hopes to increase the number of nominations for exceptional trees, helping to preserve one of the state’s most valuable and beneficial natural resources. The Outdoor Circle hopes to not only provide a valuable resource to the general public who wish to learn more about exceptional trees, but also to identify areas in need of tree nominations. Public participation is essential for the long-term success of the Exceptional Tree Map project and hopefully this interactive map is the first step in obtaining this much desired long-term goal.
Greenleaf is the online newsletter and blog of The Outdoor Circle. Here you will find updates on the projects and accomplishments of our many branches throughout the state, as well as programs with statewide impact.