DDOT Written Testimony of Dr. Jessica Sanders

Testimony of Dr. Jessica Sanders
Director of Science and Policy
Casey Trees
April 11, 2019
Budget Oversight Hearing D.C. Department of Transportation
Before the D.C. Council Committee on Transportation and the Environment

Good afternoon Chairwoman Cheh, Committee members, and Council staff. My name is Dr. Jessica Sanders and I am the Director of Science and Policy at Casey Trees. Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

Throughout its tenure, the Department of Transportation has been a champion for the protection and enhancement of our District’s tree canopy. Casey Trees has been working with DDOT since our inception and are proud to be partners with DDOT’s Urban Forestry Division. From our joint pruning, planting, and citizen science programs, to engaging with communities and residents of all 8 Wards, UFD’s work to educate District residents about the benefit of trees has become a vital part of helping the District reach its 40 percent tree canopy goal. Because of this, we were excited to see that Mayor Bowser proposed a $252,000 increase to UFD’s operating budget. The Urban Forestry Division is an integral part of managing and maintaining our City’s tree canopy, and we hope this Committee will also support UFD.

Although money for annual operations goes a long way, it is the extra support provided by capital projects that really ensures we reach our goals. We are happy to see that the Mayor requested ongoing funding for tree planting. In a survey done by Casey Trees, three-quarters of the residents surveyed stated that they most enjoy nature through park and street trees and this money will lead to the planting of over 8,000 new street trees in the next fiscal year.

In addition to this continued support, we are happy to see money for new capital projects, especially for District wide urban forestry. The proposed $70.2 million dollars in funding over the next six years will be enormously helpful in getting the District to its 40% tree canopy goal. Trees protect our environment by decreasing stormwater runoff, mitigating the heat island effect, and providing filtration to promote both clean air and clean water. Their aesthetic value not only beautifies our neighborhoods, but also provides a point of connection for all residents, creating more cohesive communities. But it is not enough just to plant new trees, we must maintain them to ensure they can grow to maturity. By budgeting for both tree planting and maintenance, we are guaranteeing that our street trees, our park trees and trees in our rain gardens and bioretention areas, will continue to grow and thrive.

The Urban Forestry Division has also done a great job in making sure that all trees are consistently cared for throughout all 8 Wards and we commend their efforts to increase the number of trees in Wards with high tree canopy potential but low tree density. Over 80 percent of residents believe that the District needed more trees and over 55 percent of them think we need more street trees. We were happy to see the Mayor proposing funding for the new K Street Transit Corridor and the number of trees that were proposed in the rendering. Casey Trees is excited to see the greening of one of our City’s most traveled streets and are thrilled to be able to participate in this redevelopment process.

We are grateful for the consistent support for tree protection the Department of Transportation and this Committee has given us over the years, but our City is growing and modernizing. We were pleased to see in the final Guideline language protecting both current and future trees. These will ensure our District’s tree canopy is protected for years to come. We know that public spaces are our greatest assets and, with these small cell applications numbering in the thousands and a federally mandated 30 day turnaround time, reviewing these permits will put unrealistic expectations on the Urban Forestry Division’s already tight budget. We are concerned this demand will cause other necessary tree operations to fall by the wayside and urge this committee to provide funding for UFD to hire a staff member dedicating to the processing of small cell applications.

Trees give people a sense of place and they provide multiple social and environmental benefits. Because of this, urge this Committee to approve the Mayor’s proposed budget.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify and I welcome any questions.