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A tree ordinance would be a great start for Las Cruces

Peter Goodman

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article mistakenly stated that planting a tree in your front yard can increase your property’s value 30%.


Las Cruces City Council will consider a tree ordinance.

No, the trees haven’t been speeding, littering, or stealing hubcaps. They’re our best citizens, providing delightful oxygen and thwarting our enemies, those greenhouse gases and other pollutants. They help protect us. They’re not as good at protecting themselves from us.

Why do we need a tree ordinance, what would it do, and what should we do?

Taking the last first, show support by calling and writing your city councilor and urging others to do the same.

Trees work hard for us. Trees in Las Cruces annually remove 45 tons of ozone, sequester 17,800 tons of carbon, provide 3,290 tons of oxygen, and intercept rainwater. That interception helps our soils retain water, resulting in significantly less runoff, flooding, and erosion. For every10% increase in a city’s tree canopy, the ambient heat declines 2 degrees Fahrenheit. As you’ve probably noticed, in the shade of a tree, a100 degree day feels like 50-75 degrees. Trees are nice to look at, too!

Urban trees even help reduce crime. A team of researchers studying the relationship between tree canopy and crime in and around Baltimore found that a 10% increase in trees roughly equaled a 12% decrease in crime.  A U.S. Forest Service study in the Pacific Northwest confirmed that neighborhoods with homes fronted with street trees experienced lower crime rates – and the results held for crimes generally, not just vandalism and burglary. (It may be that trees alert someone that a house is better cared-for by occupants particularly vigilant about protecting it.)

A tree ordinance would be a great first step to protect existing trees on public property. It deserves enthusiastic buy-in from citizens, councilors, and staff. A tree ordinance can protect, maintain, and increase our tree canopy, keeping both trees and us healthier. Las Cruces also needs to maintain its Community Forester position. Because the excellent Jimmy Zabriskie retires 31 December, urge the City to hire a fully qualified replacement ASAP. (I hope we’ve started already!)

Meanwhile, let’s plant more trees. Not just any trees, but trees that thrive here:trees that can survive our drought and blistering heat, and also the occasional hard freeze. (Such as mesquite and desert willows.)

Fortunately, tree planting is also in the works. Nonprofit Tree NM (“TREE”) has had some success with its NeighborWoods program. The model, Albuquerque NeighborWoods, is a collaboration among TREE, the City, state foresters, neighborhood leaders, and others to provide funding, training, and education for a neighborhood to plant 100 street trees and give 100 trees to homeowners. Each neighborhood provides at least five lead volunteers to help drive the project, and additional volunteers to plant the trees. (The collaboration means there’s no violation of the Anti-Donation Clause.)

TREE has received a grant to extend Neighbor Woods to Las Cruces. We might hear before next fall about tree-planting here, maybe in your neighborhood. (You could even volunteer to help plant some.)

In a 28 November work session, the City Council directed legal staff to prepare an ordinance. (Councilor Yvonne Flores asked about the possibility of extending the ordinance to cover businesses and developments. Once the city’s lawyers hash out the legal language, Las Cruces could benefit from doing that too. Only 3% of our trees are on public land.)

Hugging trees is good. Protecting them by ordinance is vital.