A Wealth of Natural Resources: The city of Camas takes stock of its parks, open space and urban tree canopy

City staff, consultants say 3,400 acres of tree canopy within Camas city limits provides $35M in benefits annually

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Clusters of trees are viewed from a pedestrian bridge along the Washougal River Greenway Trail in Camas, July 22, 2022. (Kelly Moyer/Post-Record files)

Anyone who has ever taken shelter under the leafy canopy on a hot summer day understands the value of trees, but did you know that trees add nearly $35 million in annual 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.”

Taking nature for granted is something Camas Parks and Recreation Director Trang Lam would like to change.

“We’re starting to reframe how we think about open space and parks … and reframe that conversation,” Lam recently told The Post-Record.

Looking at the value the tree canopy provides, for instance, is one way of showing the public — and elected officials who set policy and dictate the park department’s budget allocations — just how valuable a natural asset such as trees can be to a city.

Lam and consultants from GreenWorks and ECOnorthwest have presented eye-opening figures on trees to the Parks and Recreation Commission as well as the Camas City Council over the past few months.

The $35 million valuation — or $34,698,263 to be exact — shows how much the City would need to spend to get the same benefits trees provide naturally, including $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% savings on energy costs for businesses and homeowners during hot days; and millions of dollars in ecosystem benefits including providing habitat for the more than 300 bird species in Clark County and mental health benefits for the City’s 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 Camas City Council members earlier this month during the Council’s 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. “So we want to start to address that.”

Ellen Burton, the president of the Camas Parks and Recreation Commission and the former mayor of Camas, said she believes the work is “a very large change initiative.”

“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, adding that 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 City-owned open space and forested lands in Camas’ mostly North Shore north of Lacamas Lake.

The new approach of viewing trees as a financial asset for the City stemmed from ongoing work Lam and consultants are doing on the Camas Parks and Open Space Management Plan.

“This allows us to look at the data and ask, ‘How do we reframe how we think about open space and parks?’” Lam said. “And how do we find the resources to maintain this?”

The parks director said the City has “been really good about wanting to have nature” and has done a good job acquiring open spaces, especially in the North Shore area.

“Now, we need to figure out how we’re going to manage all this (land) that we have,” Lam said.

The Camas Parks and Open Space Management Plan, which is still in draft form and has not yet been adopted by the Camas City Council, 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 (PROS) Plan — the city’s guide for managing and enhancing its parks, trails and recreation system.

“We’re reconnecting with the priorities in the PROS Plan,” Lam said. “Over 1,500 people participated in that process, so we want to respect that.”

The community told city leaders during the PROS Plan process that they had three main priorities when it came to Camas’ parks and open space: Maintain what the City already has; fill in the gaps; and improve existing parks.

The creation of the Camas Parks and Open Space Management Plan is responding to those priorities, the City stated on its Engage Camas website, “by outlining a strategic vision for the thoughtful management of parks and open spaces within the city of Camas, ensuring that they continue to serve as resources for all uses.”

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

According to a presentation Lam and Piccone presented to the Camas City Council May 6, the Plan also seeks to present data-based strategies to “prioritize improvements in areas that lack the most resources; protect ecosystems, human health, safety and public and private assets using green infrastructure to limit the effect of extreme weather; maintain the existing natural character of Camas in ways that bolster community identity; provide opportunities for learning to gain efficiencies, institute best practices and engage the community; (and) optimize resource use in order to best balance the long-term performance goals with immediate needs for parks and public open space.”

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

“We worked with Trang’s team and did interviews to understand the challenges,” Piccone told Parks and Recreation Commission members earlier this year.

Some of those challenges, according to Piccone, are gaps in the City’s tree canopy and open spaces.

“They’re not all equally distributed,” he said. “So there could be access (issues) 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 that private landowners — who own land that encompasses about 55% 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 during a February Parks and Recreation Commission meeting that also included members of the City’s climate action planning group. “At the end of the day, we’re all working toward more resilient parks and open spaces.”

Lam added that the Parks and Open Space Management Plan will help the City figure out how to best utilize its limited parks resources.

“We don’t have enough resources to do the work we need to do,” Lam said, pointing out that two-thirds of the nearly $2.5 million the City’s parks department collects from Camas’ general fund — $1.892 million — goes toward maintenance.

“We’ve been really good at wanting to have nature and have done a great job accumulating it,” Lam told The Post-Record earlier this month. “And, like any system, you kind of pick up land and deal with it later. Now it’s later , and we need to figure out how we’re going to manage all this (land) that we have. … So this plan allows us to look at data and make decisions that are better and also reframe how we think about nature.”

Lam said the City plans to host a webinar in June to help educate the public about urban forestry, and that Camas is going out for a grant that would fund the inventorying of another 7,500 trees. She also hopes to partner with one of Camas’ homeowners’ associations (HOAs) to do a tree inventory of a specific neighborhood.

“One of the things I’ve been doing is talking to HOAs … that want to figure out how to maintain their open space and a big part of that is understanding their tree canopy,” Lam said. “The City wants to be a trailblazer and be out there doing all the things we say we should be doing … and asking, ‘Are these reasonable things to ask our HOAs to do?’”

Lam said she expects to bring the draft Parks and Open Space Management Plan to the Parks Commission in July and to the Council in August. For more information about the Plan, visit