Councilmember Charles Allen represents Ward 6 on the DC Council, is the chair of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee and sits on the Committee for Transportation and the Environment. During his tenure on the DC Council, he has been a champion for trees. His efforts helped create the Heritage Tree designation and the requirement that only a declaration from the mayor could remove them. Because of his work, some of the District’s most important trees are safe. Heritage trees are those greater than 100” in circumference . Protecting these trees is important because our oldest trees are the ones that provide the most environmental, health and social benefits to communities. We sat down to hear more from him.
Casey Trees (CT): Why are Heritage trees so important to our city and its communities?
Charles Allen (CA): There are the well-known environmental factors of shade protection and mitigation of heat island impacts. These are the places the community can gather in the dead heat of summer. But mature tree canopy also gives a place a grand, majestic feel. When a community or neighborhood has a rich tree canopy, it says something about how we invest in these communities. With neighborhoods that have chronic underinvestment, you don’t generally see old mature trees. The trees themselves say something.
CT: You were instrumental in getting legislation passed to protect Heritage trees. What are your thoughts since the bill’s passage?
CA: Legislation and the law are important, but in the case of [canopy] loss, serious consequences are to follow. Trees may be replaced, but we won’t be alive by the time they reach maturation and they won’t provide the same benefits during our lifetime.
CT: Recently, six Heritage trees had to be removed on Maine Avenue in Southwest as a result of poor tree protection during construction. It seems like the city’s development review procedures to protect Special and Heritage trees did not work to the extent it must. What are your thoughts on this issue?
CA: It’s still not enough, mistakes will happen and the stakes are high. The loss from this mistake will be felt for generations. We are working with the Urban Forestry Division to reclaim and reuse the wood from these Heritage trees at elementary schools, public spaces, and parks. We’re working with the community to see how it can best serve them through tables, benches, and children’s play equipment. However, it’s bittersweet, as it will be a constant reminder of their loss.
CT: What are your thoughts and aspirations regarding the city’s trees over the next 20 years?
CA: We need to continue to plant, and we need to be intentional. We need to focus on those areas and neighborhoods with chronic underinvestment. The Tree Fund should include an equity lens, so we are not just planting an equal number of trees, but an equitable number. We need to make choices that show we are investing in our communities that need it most.