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Myths of the urban forest

What good is a forest patch? We’ve heard many negative assumptions. Join us on November 9th at our Fantastic Forest Forum to hear why forest patches are important to Baltimore. And for a spoiler, read on for the top five myths about forest patches.

Myth: Urban soils are all compacted.
Fact: Our study of 22 Baltimore forest patches showed that the soils’ bulk density and organic matter are more like soils in rural forests than like vacant lots. This matters because forest is the land use that best filters storm water in Baltimore as elsewhere.

Myth: The trees are non-native.
Fact: In the 22 forest patches we surveyed (and in our experience in general across the City), the canopy trees are predominantly native species. They include plenty of oaks, which are especially valuable to birds and other wildlife, and also American elm, black walnut, and white ash. Many of the native trees grow very large, which makes them environmental powerhouses for filtering storm water and cleaning the air. For example, a 10-inch red maple intercepts 1,565 gallons of water per year, but a 30-inch red maple intercepts 11,263 gallons. The biggest tree we’ve found is 56 inches wide at breast height.

Myth: The forest floor is barren or covered with invasives.
Fact: Invasive species on the forest floor certainly are a problem, and they can stifle forest regeneration. However, we’ve also seen native species such as mayapples, pink lady slipper orchid, and lowbush blueberry. In areas with more deer, such as Baltimore County, seedlings cannot survive without intensive management. This is one time when our more urban setting creates an environmental advantage.

Myth: The forests don’t have special birds.
Fact: Baltimore’s forest patches host at least 90 species of birds, including “forest specialists.” These are the picky birds that need a large forest interior to thrive. Yet we’ve seen forest specialist species including Acadian flycatcher and vireos. These are migratory birds, and they need places to stop on their journey. Baltimore’s forest patches are a valuable rest stop for many birds.

Myth: Access to and caring about the environment is a luxury for the well-off.
Fact: Forest patches are as common in areas that Baltimore City considers to be less-well off as in areas that are better resourced. Neighborhoods labeled “distressed” and “middle market stressed” have as many forested areas as areas with higher property values. And more than half of the most active forest stewards that Baltimore Green Space works with are people of color.

Unfortunately, protections for forested land in Baltimore are minimal. We are making the case for maintenance and preservation. In partnership with the USDA Forest Service, Baltimore Green Space is engaging residents and city and state agencies to identify how forest patches contribute to Baltimore. We’re looking at the things neighbors commonly speak of, such as the birds and large trees, breathing clean air, and having contact with nature. We’re also looking at municipal goals such as reducing storm water runoff, reducing the urban heat island effect, cleaning the air to reduce respiratory illness, and mitigating the effects of climate change.

Join us on November 9th at the beautiful Cylburn Arboretum to hear the latest research updates and to hear from Baltimore residents who care for forest patches. You’ll have the opportunity to help steer our forest patch analysis that will show how forest patches improve Baltimore and help us identify which forest patches are most in need of preservation, maintenance, or research. Sign up here!