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Despite what you may have heard, George Washington loved trees.
Our first president wanted the new nation’s capital to have a lush canopy, extensive green spaces, and tree-lined boulevards. Thanks to his vision, and that of its designer Pierre L’Enfant, Washington, D.C., still boasts more green space per capita than any other city in the United States. The tens of thousands of trees planted here in the 1800s earned D.C. one of its nicknames, the “City of Trees.”
But the city’s trees are in jeopardy. DC’s tree canopy declined to just over 35% in 2011, down from 50% in 1950. A Washington Post article chronicling this decline encouraged Betty Brown Casey, a longtime area resident, to establish Casey Trees in 2002 with the mission “To restore, enhance and protect the tree canopy of the Nation’s Capital.” With Casey Trees’ encouragement, the city set a 40% canopy goal by 2035.
In order to call attention to their mission, Casey Trees issues an annual Tree Report Card, the only independent assessment of D.C.’s trees on both public and private lands. For 2013, the city received an overall grade of B minus. There were many positive advancements, including a reported 10,232 total trees being planted collectively by individuals and groups across the District. However, the overall grade was brought down due to the city’s inability to confirm that trees planted to replace removed Special Trees — those 55 inches or greater in circumference — actually survive to maturity. Only if trees live until maturity can the lost tree canopy be offset.
“Tree planting once again is at record-high levels due in large measure to the great work of the Urban Forestry Administration,” said Casey Trees Executive Director Mark Buscaino. “Tree Protection, however, remains deficient because there are no systems in place to track the survival of replacement trees. We sincerely hope the District will focus efforts to turn this around in subsequent years.”
Recommendations put forth by the Tree Report Card include strengthening the UFPA by mandating survival checks for all trees planted with Tree Fund dollars, adjusting the fee structure — 11 years out of date — to account for inflation and redirect most of the fees and fines in the Tree Fund to support planting trees on private lots.
Since its first publication on Arbor Day in 2009, the Tree Report Card has given the District an overall grade for tree-related activities performed the previous year on public and private lands located in D.C. This grade is based on the average of four key performance metrics — Tree Coverage (A-), Health (B-), Planting (A+) and Protection (D-). To read more about Casey Trees, the 2013 Tree Report Card, and what you can do to plant and protect D.C. trees, check out their website.