New CH mayor must protect environment

Severance Forest is not vacant land.

On the first Earth Day, 51 years ago, our eyes were opened to the realization that we are part of the Earth, not just visitors roaming the surface. Everything we do, every decision we make, affects everyone and everything on this planet, our home.

The world is in crisis—environmental, social, economic, and healthwise. We can act to resolve this crisis, or we can worsen it. Cleveland Heights has the opportunity to improve, rather than further degrade, our world. As we look at candidates for our first elected mayor, we need to ask how they will lead us in doing our part locally in solving this crisis.

Severance Forest is a rare treasure, a mile-long corridor of woods and wetlands at the headwaters of Dugway Brook. This urban forest is a complete ecosystem—not merely a patch of trees, not just scenery to block the view of Severance Center.

These woods clean the air we breathe and the water we drink. It gives homes to birds and wildlife. Dugway Brook’s waters flow under most of Cleveland Heights, ultimately reaching Lake Erie, and returning to us as the water we drink, cook with, and bathe in. The air cleaned by these woods is in your lungs.

Most people see only a line of trees as they drive along Severance Circle. There is so much more to understand.

This small but mature urban forest extends east from South Taylor Road to Millikin school and Metro Health, then north to Mayfield Road. Some of this land belongs to public institutions; some of it is private but restricted, to act as a buffer. All of it is vulnerable to development if the city allows it. Our public officials, elected or appointed, must act to protect the public interest. We must make sure that our public officials understand that protecting our environment is fundamental to protecting the public interest. Our newly elected mayor must be a leader in protecting our environment.

I am embarrassed to find that it is still necessary to make the case for preservation in terms of money. We can launch a study to assess the economics in detail, with many cost and benefit projections of a development. The study would tell us what we already know: Trees improve property values by making a neighborhood more attractive, quieter, and cleaner. Families young and old prefer to move to areas with access to parks and woods. Trees improve health, reducing medical costs. Trees improve mental health by providing recreational opportunities. Wooded land filters water and reduces runoff. Larger, established woodlands provide an exponentially larger benefit than small, scattered plantings.

Development is important. Cleveland Heights has many distressed or vacant properties in need of redevelopment. Severance Forest, including the Millikin school property, is not vacant land. All over the world, communities are working desperately to find land that can be re-forested to combat climate change. We already have the land; it already has a mature urban forest. We are lucky to have it, and would be foolish to destroy it.

If we lose the Earth, we lose everything.

MIchael Morse

Michael Morse is a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights.

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Volume 14, Issue 4, Posted 10:05 AM, 04.01.2021