If keeping carbon tied up in trees is a way to mitigate climate change, and most trees are on private property, then it follows that understanding how people regard the wooded landscape is key to preserving the urban and suburban forest. It turns out that the Michigan homeowners who were investigated regarding their attitudes about wooded landscapes have a rather complex way of looking at their landscapes. It turns out everyone likes mature trees.
Dense vegetation on residential property in southeast Michigan has been shown to have nearly as much carbon stored per area as the region’s mature hardwood forests. But do homeowners want trees? If so, what do they think about them? How “safe” are residential trees from knee-jerk homeowner behavior?
To gain insights, University of Michigan researchers partnered with the U.S. Forest Service to survey residents in townships with less than 50,000 residents. The population tended to be older, have higher earnings and over-represented homes with children. The surveys were image based with no text and there was no mention of the types of plants in the photos or of ecosystems services.
Responses were parsed into four yard styles: Overall Woodland Style, Backyard Woodland Style, Turf and Tree Style, and Turf Style. More than half of all responding preferred similar levels of woodlands in the front or backyard with some (27%) preferring more woods and others (29%) less woods. Overall results showed that 71% of all surveyed preferred some level of wooded front or backyards. Three to one preferred front yards with mature trees compared to turf-dominated front yards.
Neatness was important for all yard styles; it’s especially important for those who prefer a less wooded front yard. Some people like it neat and tidy, even manicured.
If the goal is to entice homeowners to store carbon in trees, then one size doesn’t fit all. If you’re targeting homeowners that like wooded front and backyards, in general, they like large trees for privacy, want vegetation that’s good for wildlife and are less concerned about neatness in the backyard. The authors suggest targeting these landscapes for additional carbon storage by adding a shrubby understory.
On the other hand, homeowners that prefer more turf-dominated landscapes with less woods, more flowers and an entire yard that’s neat, aren’t concerned with wildlife or having a yard that’s good for the environment. They do, however, value older mature trees, which is where the emphasis can be placed: Protecting them, both during development and over time on the property.
Neatness is strongly preferred in all types of wooded front yards with cues like having a clear view of the front of the house and low understory. Another neatness cue: Planting beds with defined edges and areas where mowing is obvious. Shady backyards and dense woodlands weren’t as preferred, even though dense cover stores a lot of carbon. The authors ask if there’s a way to design backyards that demonstrate cues for landscape care while accommodating dense woodlands and the myriad of activities that landowners carry out in backyards.
NewTerrain February 15, 2016.