Shelter from the Storm: The Parks and Climate Change

Raise your hand if you battled a frozen pipe in your home or apartment last week.

The skyline of Pittsburgh is framed by ice along the bank of the Allegheny river at sunset Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014. Photo credit: AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

Almost as quickly as Pittsburgh and the Mid-Atlantic caught its breath (literally) after last week’s extreme polar vortex swooped in, the cold lifted, leaving us to shed layers and enjoy an unseasonably warm weekend in the 50’s.

Weather patterns and the changing climate can be complex and surprising as we begin to see the real-life results of this global experiment that have led to a warming planet. With so many factors beyond our city limits playing a part, the issue can seem a bit daunting from the viewpoint of any one Pittsburgher.

Photo credit: Melissa McMasters

Photo credit: Melissa McMasters

According to this very attractive infograph of the official White House Climate Action Plan, carbon pollution is the biggest driver of climate change. In our small corner of the world, the Parks Conservancy and our volunteers make bigger and bigger strides every year to mitigate carbon and air pollution with the best — and oldest! — tool in our arsenal: TREES.

Trees have a tremendously positive impact on our city. One acre of tree cover in a park can remove about 80 pounds of air pollution each year, and large parks can be 13 degrees cooler than surrounding urban areas. As we fill in canopy gaps and tend to the health of our established trees, we are steadily building a strong, healthy and natural climate buffer.

The view of Oakland from Flagstaff Hill

Last year, in addition to the 1,300 trees and shrubs that Parks Conservancy staff and volunteers planted in our regional parks, we had the honor of taking on a very specific task in mitigating climate change: planting adult trees to offset the travel of the Garden Club of Allegheny County. With this Garden Club grant, Parks Conservancy and City staff were able to plant eight new two-inch caliper (13-foot tall) trees around Flagstaff Hill.

The impact of these new trees cannot be overstated. Along with being a carbon sink and an erosion and stormwater barrier, these particular tree species were chosen for their resistance to disease and invasive insects such as oak wilt disease and emerald ash borer. By carefully choosing these more resistant trees, we are proactively working to keep our parks ahead of new threats brought on by longer-lasting warm seasons. 

With these seemingly small steps, we are maintaining and creating spaces that are not only a free and scenic part of the city, but an essential stronghold in this changing climate.

Want to learn about your personal climate impact in Pittsburgh? Our friends at the Black and Gold City Goes Green Campaign are a great resource to get you started. Be proactive with us by becoming an Urban EcoSteward this year!

2 thoughts on “Shelter from the Storm: The Parks and Climate Change

  1. Regarding the Garden Club of Allegheny County’s tree grant, what trees were planted? Botanic names please!

    • Hey, Sally! It looks like this planting plan will be continuing through this year when it gets warm enough to plant again. Our Director of Parks Management and Maintenance is looking at planting Tulip poplars (Liriodendron tulipifera), Cucumber magnolias (Magnolia acuminata) and Kentucky coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus). Hope you can check them out in the spring!

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