May 15, 2023 /
Christina Hester

Urban Trees in the News

Recently, there has been a surge of news coverage in urban forestry, as people across the country are recognizing the importance of trees in urban areas. Like the recent study released by Climate Central, many articles highlight the benefits of urban trees, including their ability to improve air quality, reduce urban heat islands, and provide shade and beauty to urban environments.

Climate Central also discussed the upcoming challenges that come with maintaining an urban forest, such as climate change. The article shared that, “One study of urban forests across 164 global cities showed that 70% and 76% of urban tree species could be at risk by 2050 due to projected changes in mean annual precipitation and temperature, respectively.”

Urban trees can support the health and safety of growing urban populations in a warming world. In the U.S., around 80% of the population lives in urban areas – a figure that could increase to 90% by 2050 due to population growth and urban sprawl. As our population grows, a renewed focus on land conservation and the stewardship of our urban forests is needed. Though our trees can do a lot to mitigate climate change, it is an incomplete solution to the problem. Globally, cities contribute up to 60% of total greenhouse gas emissions, despite making up only about 2% of land area. Cutting emissions is the most effective way to slow the rate of warming—in cities and beyond—and protect both human and tree health.

It’s always being said that the time to take climate action is now – and that statement has never been truer. Pathways to net-zero carbon emissions differ among cities, but key actions include decarbonizing buildings; improving public transportation and electric vehicle infrastructure; and optimizing waste management.

A similar article released by Axios talks about the national issue of tree inequity, creating heat islands in cities across the country. We see suburban towns thrive as their air pollution gets absorbed by large canopy trees while cities (where air pollution and population are often at its highest) only get partial canopy coverage.

The national trend is showing that urban trees get planted in affluent areas of cities, while leaving large amounts of residents to suffer the physical, mental, and economic effects of living on a heat island. Additionally, studies find that the groups most adversely affected tend to be minority communities. “These communities can experience flooding, extreme temperatures due to heat island effects, and higher rates of respiratory issues,” Casey Trees’ Director of Communications and Development, Vincent Drader shared with Axios.

In more local news, Casey Trees was featured in the latest issue of East of the River Magazine! Our very own Director of Policy and Land Conservation, Kelly Collins Choi and Conservation Planner, Spenser Balog touched on this year’s tree protection grade in our 2022 Tree Report Card.

“Trees are as much of an amenity as a school, bridge, or road”, noted Casey Trees’ Collins Choi. “Our tree canopies are green infrastructure — it’s the only type of infrastructure that actually appreciates over time. But just like our roads, trees require care and maintenance, and that’s something that we’d like the city to prioritize over the coming years.”

They also provide recommendations of increasing the fees and fines for the removal of Special and Heritage Trees to account for inflation and lowering the Special Tree threshold from 44” circumference to 25” circumference. Both changes would make a drastic change in DC’s tree protections and could be the push we need to make it to a 40% tree canopy.

Overall, the increased attention to urban forestry is a positive trend, as it highlights the importance of preserving and expanding tree cover in cities for both human and environmental health.