Weekend Reads: The Not So Secret Life of Trees!

by Kevin Schofield

This week we have two weekend reads lined up about trees: one on the outdoor kind, and one on the indoor (and seasonal) kind.

Seattle’s Urban Forest

The approximately four million trees that make up Seattle’s tree canopy, and how best to preserve them, have long been a source of contention here. On one hand, they are critical to the city meeting its environmental stewardship goals; but on the other hand, protecting them at all costs might at times interfere with attempts to increase urban density. Further complicating matters, there are equity considerations: traditionally underserved and economically disadvantaged communities in Seattle tend to have fewer trees (and less city investment in planting new ones), and there have been accusations that tree preservation concerns are wielded by so-called NIMBYs to block development in wealthier single-family residential neighborhoods.

This year the city has been working on an update to its Urban Forest Management Plan, a joint effort of nine city departments and the community-led Urban Forestry Commission. The draft plan, which was discussed at a City Council meeting earlier this week and is up for approval in early 2021, highlights the tensions between the competing interests. Its 18-point “action agenda” includes items related to advancing access and increasing and maintaining the tree canopy in “environmental equity priority communities” in the city, while also calling out both the need for a “climate change vulnerability assessment” and the frequently-stalled (and highly politicized) effort to update the city’s tree protection regulations. According to the report, 72% of the city’s tree canopy is on private residential property, making tree regulations central to efforts to maintain the population of trees.

City of Seattle 2020 Draft Urban Forest Management Plan      (executive summary)

The Economics of Christmas Trees

‘Tis the season for cutting down trees and sticking them in our living rooms. Each year, fifteen thousand American Christmas tree farms harvest about 25 million trees destined to decorate our homes. Two thirds of them come from just four states: Oregon, North Carolina, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. 

The Hustle, a business journalism newsletter, recently published a fascinating deep dive on the business of Christmas trees.

Christmas tree farming is a $2 billion a year business, but a weird one. A typical tree takes 8-10 years to grow, at a cost of about $25 dollars. It is then sold for on average $35 to a retail location, which then resells it for $75 – so while most of the work is done by the farmers, most of the profit goes to the retailers. Only about a third of Christmas trees are “you-cut” – the majority are sold pre-cut through retail channels.

But times have also changed: nowadays only about 19% of the Christmas trees on American homes are real; the vast majority are artificial. An average artificial tree sells for about $107 and can last for ten years or more.

The Economics of Christmas Trees

Featured image: Diana Robinson under a Creative Commons 2.0 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license.

Kevin Schofield is a freelance writer and the founder of Seattle City Council Insight, a website providing independent news and analysis of the Seattle City Council and City Hall. He also co-hosts the “Seattle News, Views and Brews” podcast with Brian Callanan, and appears from time to time on Converge Media and KUOW’s Week in Review.

Before getting into journalism Kevin worked at Microsoft for 26 years, including 17 in the company’s research division. He has twin daughters, loves to cook, and is trying hard to learn Spanish and the guitar.

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