Trees: Guarantee for a Healthy City

For: Diana Pastor

The Covid-19 pandemic made evident that one of the most valuable riches for human beings is the joy of being able to breathe, and in our daily lives, to breathe clean air; our most important allies are trees.  However, it seems that the municipality of Quetzaltenango does not have the same opinion, since for the execution of its projects, in the past few months a large number of trees have been cut down for new construction.  The felling of trees has been a normal situation with past city administrations; however, in 2020, with the arrival of Juan Fernando Lopez, the cutting increased disproportionately, which has been the object of contention between the government and the population.

Trees, in addition to being important elements in the city’s landscape, provide a number of environmental, aesthetic, scenic, recreational, social and economic benefits.  They have helped the city for years to absorb carbon dioxide, the main contributor to global warming, cleaning the air and acting as filters, returning clean oxygen.  Furthermore, they serve as an excellent natural heat regulator.  Due to the shade and the evaporation released by their leaves, they are able to lower the environmental temperature between 2 and 8 degrees centigrade on hot days and can even regulate humidity and wind. 

Other benefits of trees include – depending on their location and quantity – improved soil and the regulation of the water cycle, helping to reduce the volume of the water currents during rainfall and avoiding the risk of possible floods.  They increase urban biodiversity by hosting various animal and plant species.  Similarly, they embellish the city increasing its attraction, thus improving the potential and commercial value of homes and businesses.  So, if they are so beneficial, why are they cutting down so many trees lately?

Guillermo Monterroso, director of INAB in Quetzaltenango, explains that many of the species that are in the city (especially in flowerbeds), are not suitable for a metropolis.  Trees such as cypress and different types of pine have very strong roots that can easily break through pavement or asphalt.  He explains: “When the streets suffer damage or city work is done, the tree roots are normally cut or eliminated to prevent damage to the new infrastructure.  It is there that they lose anchoring and any strong wind caused by some climate phenomenon can affect them, causing them to fall.

Monterroso indicates that the problem with trees in Quetzaltenango is not just about having inadequate species planted, it is also due to maintenance, which for years, trees have lacked.  He mentions, “There are many trees that could have been pruned and cleaned in their early years…early on you can start the pruning and determine its height”.  In addition to the lack of maintenance, cutting illegally or in suspicious circumstances is a problem more common than it seems.  In 2019 for example, several trees located in Zone 3 in Quetzaltenango, in the intercultural center area, were cut without having permission or a license to do so.  In 2016, a hundred-year-old tree was cut “by mistake” while a well-known shopping center was being constructed between Esperanza and Quetzaltenango.

Clearly, the city hasn’t implemented a comprehensive reforestation project, since on occasion, there’s a long time between the cutting of an old tree and the planting of a new one, or worse, another one is never planted;  Nor does it monitor the growth of planted trees and other times species are introduced that are not adequate to the city’s needs.  “Here in Guatemala – says Monterroso – we have the privilege of having many types of wood that grow more quickly than in other countries.  In addition, he says, “Small ornamental trees have been introduced that grow more slowly and are not sufficient for a large city like Quetzaltenango”.

And don’t miss in our next issue our article: “Bicentennial Parks: Community Benefit or Government Business?”