Monday, September 04, 2006

Sparrows of September, and Trees in Sacramento

Washington is full of small parks and squares thanks to the L'Enfant Plan's inclusion of diagonal streets inside of the regular urban grid. Where diagonal streets meet with a grid intersection, traffic flow is regulated with a square or circle, which then has room for a park. These parks have become the focus for neighborhoods within the District and relieve long stretches of concrete and asphalt with a bit of green

This afternoon I was in a small park near my apartment. A house sparrow landed nearby to scrounge for food. Soon a starling appeared. Then a few more house sparrows flew in, then a few more, and soon on, until about twenty birds were on the ground. I got pictures of a few. Below are two birds that came close.

Today's Washington Post has an article about tree-planting in Sacramento. The city is trying to encourage home owners to plant trees in order to reduce their own and the city's energy bills. A few well-placed trees around a house will cool the structure by a few degrees, meaning that air conditioning units will have less work and use less energy over the course of a summer. The program seems to be doing well so far.

About 375,000 shade trees have been given away to city residents in the past 16 years, and there are plans to plant at least 4 million more. To receive up to 10 free trees, residents simply call the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, a publicly owned power company.

"A week later, they are here to tell you where the trees should be planted and how to take care of them," said Arlene Willard, a retired welfare case worker who with her husband, John, has planted four SMUD trees in the back yard of their east Sacramento house.
Several other western cities are adopting a similar approach. Eastern cities, where more humid air reduces the impact of individual trees, have been slower to respond with tree planting programs. Such programs are needed because the tree canopy in most cities is shrinking dramatically. Nationwide, the decline has been about 25 percent over the past 30 years; in Washington, DC, the canopy has shrunk by about 64 percent. The declines are unfortunate, not only because trees reduce the urban heat island effect, but also because they absorb much of the carbon dioxide produced from traffic and other urban sources.

For information about planting trees in Washington, see the Casey Trees Endowment Fund and the District's Urban Forestry Administration.