Monday, April 30, 2012

DC trees get no grade on Casey Trees' report card

April 30 
Our city's trees got a mixed report card this week from Casey Trees.  The overall grade? Incomplete.

We got an A+ in Tree Planting, but "incomplete" in Tree Protection, according to this fourth yearly exercise by Casey Trees.

Casey Trees is an independent foundation with the mission of expanding DC's tree canopy. [It has donated and planted about 125 trees along Embassy Row since 2007, arranged by Restore Mass Ave, and thousands of trees elsewhere in the city. But the group does more, such as geographic analysis, training and evaluations of public and private green activities.]

The report's main news concerned Tree Coverage. Thirty five per cent of Washington's land area was found to have tree canopy (area of tree leaf crowns seen from above) in a 2006 analysis by the respected University of Vermont Spatial Analysis Lab. This finding formed the basis of the goal set by DC Mayor Adrian Fenty to expand canopied area to 40 per cent by 2035, announced in 2010. Meeting the goal is important to city compliance with the Clean Air Act Amendments and the Clean Water Act.

"The 2011 assessment reveals that this percentage is virtually unchanged,"  said the report card, which gave a  grade of B+, same as for two prior years.

In other words, Casey Trees is not buying - yet - a reanalysis  of DC tree data issued by the Urban Forestry Administration a few weeks back. UFA reported that city land had 37.2 per cent tree canopy, The Casey Trees report says: "If UFA-DDOT [Department of Transportation] releases the data from this publicly funded project, we will compare both sets and issue a findings report." 

The report card credits the expansion of grass and treed areas in 2011, funded by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) and carried out by UFA and the Department of the Environment (DOE). For example, UFA added three acres of plantable space by enlarging and opening sidewalk tree boxes and planting median strips with trees. An example is on Bladensburg Road northeast, which is illustrated in the report and below.

Bladensburg Road NE - Before

Bladensburg Road NE - After
Tree Health Casey Trees will next assess DC trees in 2013 when it returns to 200 randomly chosen parcels whose trees it assessed in 2004 and 2009.  It has no basis for changing its 2009 finding that 82.5 per cent of city trees are "good to excellent" health, for a grade of B-, the same as for 2010 and 2009.

But, the report warns, Dutch Elm Disease (DED) still threatens non-disease resistant American elms. A new threat is the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) which has killed tens of millions of ash trees in 14 states and threatens billions more ash trees. EAB was found in a Prince George's County nursery, triggering a quarantine on the movement of possibly infected wood. Though just 2 per cent of DC trees are ashes, the largest ashe trees in DC are on private land, so residents could suffer if  EAB is allowed to spread. See more on the EAB quarantine.

Tree Planting We need to plant new trees at a steady clip of 8,600 per year for tree canopy to cover 40 per cent of city land by 2035. The report says that in 2011 the number of trees planted was 13,608, exceeding the goal by half, and giving us an A+ ! The breakdown was:
Government, federal and DC - 10,937 trees
Private, including Casey Trees - 2,671 trees

Tree Protection Casey Trees has been critical of the Urban Forest Protection Act (UFPA) of 2002. It favors a revision protecting trees 29" and larger around, as well as the present 55" and larger trees. This and other protections are in DC Council Member Phil Mendelson's Urban Forestry Administration  Reorganization Act (UFARA).  The UFARA would move the UFA to the Department of the Environment (DOE). (See primer on the UFARA, by the DC Environmental Network.)
Pending the outcome, the Casey Trees report gave an "incomplete" for Tree Protection.

Tree Awareness, a past category, was omitted this year due to the "difficulty of gathering sound data" to support a specific grade.  This is the category where local activists such as Restore Mass Ave help to raise the city-wide score! Apparently this metric may be resumed in future.

Casey Trees' general warning, in this report and voiced elsewhere by Mark Buscaino, Executive Director, is the danger to DC's tree canopy from population growth.

In 1950 when the city's population was 800,000, 45 per cent of city land had trees. In the 2006 survey, when population was just 550,000, 35 per cent of land had tree canopy. "[W]ith
more people comes more development pressures that threaten established tree canopy and open space," says the report.

If the city's tree canopy is now essentially the same as in 2006, and if canopy is lost due to development, "the hill [the city] must climb to reach the goal becomes much more difficult."

By Deborah Shapley

Tags: tree canopy, Casey Trees, Department of the Environment, Urban Forestry Administration, University of Vermont Spatial Analysis Lab, Mark Buscaino, Adrian Fenty, Clean Air Act Amendments, Clean Water Act, American Reinvestment and Recovery Act,  population growth.

1 comment:

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