DDOT Budget Testimony of Kelly Collins Choi – 2022
Good afternoon Councilmember Cheh, and members of the committee. My name is Kelly Collins Choi, I’m the Director of Policy and Land Conservation at Casey Trees. Thank you for the opportunity to submit comments on the proposed Fiscal Year 23 budget for the District Department of Transportation.
Casey Trees would like to thank the Mayor, Director Lott, and the Council for their continued support of DDOT’s Urban Forestry Division (UFD). We commend UFD’s hard work and the commitment of their arborists to ensuring every ward of our city is thriving and resilient, and are pleased to see a 35% increase in funding for the Urban Forestry Division in FY23.
Unfortunately, recent data shows we’ve had a setback in the District’s commitment to 40% tree canopy by 2032. Despite 15 years of net canopy gains, the data shows tree canopy declining by 1% overall during the past five years – with highest losses in the City’s most vulnerable areas – Wards 5, 7 and 8. We did see canopy gains in DC’sstreet trees and we applaud the Urban Forestry Division for its dedication to planting and maintaining the public right-of-way. However, these findings show that we have lost ground and we must redouble efforts to attain the District’s Canopy Goal.
While we are still assessing the drivers of canopy loss and await OCTO’s public release of the detailed data, preliminary information shows loss was greatest in low and medium density residential areas, largely due to development. Casey Trees testified during the performance oversight hearings regarding the need to strengthen Tree Preservation Plans during the development permitting process. We would like to see funding allocated to a new shared staff member between UFD and the Department of Buildings, dedicated to reviewing Tree Preservation Plans, in order to both streamline the process, and ensure these plans are crafted to industry standards.
In order to achieve our city’s canopy goals, it will take renewed and expanded efforts, not only in tree planting, but in tree protections and preservation. Regarding preservation, we would like to thank the Council for unanimously passing the Urban Forest Preservation Stop Work Order Authority Emergency Amendment Act of 2022, which is a mouthful, but critical to better protecting our Heritage and Special Trees, and ultimately must be made permanent.
DC’s tree canopy and green infrastructure are critical to the health of our residents, our air and water quality, and our resilience to a changing climate. It is the only infrastructure that appreciates over time, and the investments we make today will compound in ecosystem benefits far into the future. Now, more than ever, it is imperative that we prioritize protecting and funding our tree canopy for the benefit of our residents and future generations.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment, and I welcome any questions.
Kelly Collins Choi Director, Policy & Land Conservation Casey Trees