DPR Testimony of Leah Harnish

Councilmember Trayon White 
Committee on Recreation and Youth Affairs 
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW 
Washington, D.C. 20004 
 
March 6, 2020 

Subject: Casey Trees Comments: Performance Oversight for the Department of Parks and Recreation 

Dear Councilmember White,  

Casey Trees is a D.C. based nonprofit with the mission to restore, enhance and protect the tree canopy of our nation’s capital. We do this by planting trees, advocating for the protection of trees and green space and teaching residents of all ages about the value of trees. 

D.C. parks and recreation centers are special because they are a place where community members, no matter their background, come together to play, learn and relax. When we invest in our parks and recreation centers, we invest in our community.  When we invest in our community, we build a stronger D.C. As an agency, DPR’s mission is to promote health and wellness, conserve the natural environment and provide universal access to parks and recreation services. With over 900 acres of parkland and 98 percent of District residents within a 10-minute walk of a park, DPR is well on its way to meet these goals.  

Well-maintained parks bring great value to a community; the trees in the parks provide shade, mitigating the urban heat island effect, the fields offer places for physical activity, the community gardens deliver a source of fresh fruits and vegetables year round and the meeting spaces, both indoors and out, are a place for social gatherings, helping people develop a sense of place within their community. We commend DPR for the work they have done to improve and update our parks and recreation centers and ask that they work with DOEE and DGS on landscape designs to incorporate existing vegetation into these renovations, preserve trees when possible and plant new trees when existing are removed. Including these and other natural elements both indoors and out will create spaces that are good for the environment and good for our communities. Additionally, we ask DPR, in collaboration with DDOT, DGS and DOEE, to create an organization flow chart showing who cares for the trees in different District spaces. Trees are most vulnerable the first three years after planting but continue to need care throughout their lives and frequently, residents are eager to help with this. Unfortunately, residents do not always know who to contact when they see an issue that may need to be addressed. Having an organizational chart clearly defining who is responsible for what tree and who to contact for help with these trees will provide clarity for residents and help streamline tree planting, maintenance and removal requests. 

The trees in and around parks provide a multitude of benefits to a community, all of which increase exponentially as they age. They reduce stormwater runoff, remove pollutants from the air and cool play areas to make them comfortable for year-round use. It can take generations for a tree to grow to maturity, but only a moment for it to be cut down. When a large tree is removed, it can significantly impact an entire community, not just because of the environmental benefits lost, but because of the intrinsic value that tree brought. Unfortunately, the District’s urban forestry law, the Urban Forest Preservation Act, does not protect trees removed by government agenciesThe law state that “It shall be unlawful for any person or nongovernmental entity” to remove a Special or Heritage tree1. This has been interpreted to mean that only trees on privately owned land qualify for protection under this law. We ask the D.C. Council to expand the Urban Forest Preservation Act to protect ALL trees, not just those that can be removed by nongovernmental or private entities. Our government should be held to the same standards as their private counterparts. By amending the permitting and approval requirements to apply to anyone removing trees, we can protect thousands of trees that otherwise could be removed without regulatory oversight2 

Beyond planting new trees and maintaining existing trees, it is also important that we recognize the value of our trees and green spaces. Connecting the health of the earth to the health of us as human beings is a first step to doing this. DPR has many programs to teach residents of all ages about their local environment and Casey Trees is proud to be a partner in this3. Since our partnership began in 2018, Casey Trees has held 50 events at DPR sites, taught classes to ground participants to natural world around them, planted over 600 trees and inventoried several thousand in DPR parks. Trees decrease stormwater runoff, mitigate the heat island effect, and improve physical and mental health. We look forward to continuing our partnership with DPR and supporting them in their Move. Grow. Be Green vision. 

In 2019, Washington, D.C. was named the number one city in the nation for parks. This is not only because 20 percent of District land is dedicated to parks and open space, but because the Department of Parks and Recreation provides District residents and visitors with easy access to quality parks and green space and the D.C. government has continually invested in its park system. Parks bring communities together and create a sense of place for the residents who live in them. We urge the Council to continue to fund DPR in the coming budget cycle. 

Thank you for the opportunity to submit comments on the Department of Parks and Recreation’s performance for 2019. If you have any questions or would like to follow up, please contact me at lharnish@caseytrees.org or 202-349-3478.  

Sincerely, 

Leah Harnish
Policy Analyst
Casey Trees

Figure 1: District Owned Trees of Special and Heritage Tree Size

Figure 1: District Owned Trees of Special and Heritage Tree Size

Figure 1: District Owned Trees of Special and Heritage Tree Size

This only accounts for trees inventoried in the Street Trees in Washington, DC map (https://arcg.is/1jz4Py) created by UFD, last updated August 30, 2019. It includes trees on land owned and/or maintained by UFD, DPR, DGS, DCHA and DCPS

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