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News / Clark County News

Camas takes stock of its parks, open space and urban tree canopy

Report says city’s trees worth $35 million annually

By Kelly Moyer, Camas-Washougal Post-Record
Published: May 25, 2024, 6:10am

CAMAS — Anyone who has ever taken shelter in the shade on a hot day understands the value of trees, but did you know that trees add nearly $35 million in benefits to the city of Camas?

“It’s really something we take for granted,” Jenny Wu, a member of the Camas Parks and Recreation Commission, said of the vast array of benefits provided by the city’s nearly 3,400 acres of tree canopy. “You never really think about what the tree canopy can provide.”

Camas Parks and Recreation Director Trang Lam and consultants from GreenWorks and ECOnorthwest have presented eye-opening tree data to the Parks and Recreation Commission as well as the Camas City Council over the past few months.

“We’re starting to reframe how we think about open space and parks … and reframe that conversation,” Lam said.

The $35 million valuation — $34,698,263 to be exact — represents how much the city would need to spend to get the same benefits trees provide naturally. This includes

  • $1.81 million for the 83 tons of pollution Camas’ roadside trees remove from the air each year.
  • $1.2 million for the 136 million gallons of runoff the city’s trees intercept before it hits the stormwater system.
  • $522,339 for the more than 11,000 tons of carbon sequestered by Camas’ mature trees every year.
  • An estimated 50 percent savings on energy costs for businesses and homeowners.
  • Millions of dollars in ecosystem benefits including providing habitat for the more than 300 bird species in Clark County.
  • Mental health benefits for residents and employees.

“Your natural land is doing work for you, and it’s worth money, so we wanted to address that,” GreenWorks consultant Matt Piccone told council members at a May 6 workshop.

Piccone said there is a national trend toward placing a monetary value on natural resources that provide wildlife habitats, help cool urban areas, increase residents’ mental and physical well-being and help clean the environment.

“If you took nature away, you’d have to pay for something to do these things instead,” Piccone said.

Ellen Burton, the president of the Camas Parks and Recreation Commission and a former mayor of Camas said she believes such ways of looking at natural resources will be important as the city begins to plan how it will develop its large swath of open space and forested lands north of Lacamas Lake.

“It’s actually changing the way we think about our parks and open spaces — in terms of financial benefit to the community and as an asset you want to invest in appropriately to keep a return on that asset,” Burton said during the commission’s April 24 meeting.

“This allows us to look at the data and ask, ‘How do we reframe how we think about open space and parks?’” Lam said. “Now, we need to figure out how we’re going to manage all this (land) that we have.”

The Camas Parks and Open Space Management Plan, which is still in draft form, is a response to feedback from more than 1,500 community members during the city’s 2022 update to the Camas Parks, Recreation and Open Space Plan — the city’s guide for managing and enhancing its parks, trails and recreation system.

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The community told city leaders that they had three main priorities when it came to Camas’ parks and open spaces:

  • Maintain what the city already has.
  • Fill in the gaps.
  • Improve existing parks.

The tree valuation and ongoing urban tree canopy assessment the city started earlier this year using grant dollars from the Washington Department of Natural Resources is just one piece of the Camas Parks and Open Space Management Plan.

Piccone said the city is facing a few challenges when it comes to managing parks and open spaces.

One of those challenges, according to Piccone, are the gaps in the city’s tree canopy and open space, which could be an access issue for more vulnerable populations.

Other challenges include climate change and extreme weather; a lack of data; a lack of resources; and unclear guidance for private landowners.

Piccone and Lam said the city will want to make sure private landowners — whose land encompasses about 55 percent of Camas’ tree canopy — understand the codes and that the city is setting a good example with its land stewardship on public land before asking private landowners to do the same.

“We’re all in this together,” Piccone said. “At the end of the day, we’re all working toward more resilient parks and open spaces.”

For more information about the plan, visit engagecamas.com/camas-parks-and-open-space-management-plan.