February 27, 2023 /
Christina Hester

Advocacy Wins at Casey Trees!

It’s been a big year for advocacy work here at Casey Trees, and we are very excited to let everyone know that we’ve scored some big wins! While our work doesn’t stop here, we’d like to take some time to acknowledge and reflect on what we’ve accomplished as well as look towards our goals for the future.

First, back in June, the Council passed the Urban Forest Preservation Authority Amendment Act (or, UFPAAA) unanimously – the largest expansion to tree protections in DC in 15 years! This was a huge win as the UFPAAA allows the city to stop construction projects that threaten Special or Heritage Trees and expands the umbrella of protection for these trees to public lands.

Then, as you may recall, the Council almost voted to raid the Tree Fund for nearly $1.4 million. Such a loss would have meant losing the funding to plant 4,000 trees. Thanks to our advocate’s letters, the Council reversed this decision and left the Tree Fund intact! The work we do at Casey Trees and with the city’s Urban Forestry Division depends on having these funds available to plant, maintain, and care for trees.

Next, Council passed The Migratory Local Wildlife Protection Act of 2022! This Bill would require all new building construction, or improvements to the facade of a building’s exterior wall and other elements, use bird friendly materials. While you may not initially think of a bustling city as a great spot for birding – the District is actually right in the path of the Atlantic Flyway (One of the four migratory paths birds take every year!), and more than 300 bird species have been reported on eBird in Washington, DC. Between 2011 and 2021, the number of reported annual bird strikes on buildings tripled – from 212 in 2011 to 731 in 2021. This Act will go a long way to protecting the birds that visit and live in the District, which in turn protects our trees that they use as habitat and help maintain.

But the good news doesn’t end there – we also had a hand in the permanent closure of Beach Drive. Although the first NPS plan had Beach Drive open to cars from Labor Day to Memorial Day and closed to cars just during the May-September period, we submitted comments (along with other natural resource and urban planning organizations) that NPS reflected on and eventually revised the decision to be closed year-round! This is the culmination of a long-standing project originating from a coalition group back in the 1980’s, which is how Beach Drive originally became closed to cars on weekends to start with. This decision provides District residents with a permanent and safe pedestrian recreation zone in our very own Rock Creek Park for all to enjoy.

Lastly, Director of Policy & Land Conservation, Kelly Collins-Choi served in an advisory role on incoming Attorney General Brian Schwalb’s transition team to discuss pressing issues in environmentally vulnerable communities. We advocated for our environmental justice work in Wards 5, 7, and 8, with an emphasis on flooding, heat island reduction, and respiratory issues – key concerns that trees can help mitigate. Even though there are no legislative outcomes (yet), this is an example of leveraging our strong community relationships to advocate for them and inform future policy.

More recently, our Policy & Advocacy Associate, John Boland and Education Director, Melinda Peters shared testimonies on the importance of trees to Chairperson Charles Allen from The Committee on Transportation and the Environment. They had a wonderful discussion on how having equal access to trees and greenspaces provides individuals with benefits, mentally, physically, and even economically. Watch their full testimony below!