DDOT Written Testimony of Dr. Jessica Sanders

Testimony of Dr. Jessica Sanders
Director of Science and Policy
Casey Trees
February 25, 2019
Performance and Oversight Hearing DC Department of Transportation
Before the DC Council Committee on Transportation and the Environment

Good afternoon Chairwoman Cheh and Councilmembers. I am Dr. Jessica Sanders, Director of Science and Policy at Casey Trees. Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

Throughout its tenure, the Department of Transportation, specifically the Urban Forestry Division, has been a champion in educating District residents about the benefits of trees and encouraging planting of appropriate tree species in urban environments. Casey Trees has been working with DDOT since our inception in 2002. From our partnership with pruning, planting and citizen science programs, to our continued work together to engage communities and residents of all 8 wards, we are excited to continue to work with UFD.

D.C. is less than 2% away from meeting its goal of 40% tree canopy cover. Trees takes time to grow and mature – which is why the last few percentage points will be the hardest to reach. However, with an increase in impervious surfaces throughout the District, the amount of land available to plant new trees is rapidly decreasing. Because of this, not only is it important to protect our open spaces from development, it is equally important to protect the trees that are already planted. We commend the D.C. Council for their support in protecting mature trees by creating Heritage Trees and increasing protection for Special Trees. We have already seen the success of these programs. Unfortunately, current policy still allows residents to remove Special Trees. This not only removes the benefits these trees have to the District, but also reduces the potential to increase the number of new Heritage Trees. There are already programs that incentivize planting trees, however, we urge this Council to take it one step further and create a credit or monetary savings program for developers who will work to protect Special Trees. Creating this type of program ensures that we see the economic, social, and environmental benefits that come with 40% tree canopy cover.

However, success does not come without collaboration. Therefore, we urge DDOT to work more closely with DOEE and the Office of Zoning when reviewing development plans to ensure that each proposed development plan is in compliance with all District plans, policies, and regulations and supports the goals stated in Sustainable D.C. 2.0, Climate Ready D.C., D.C. Wildlife Action Plan, D.C. Comprehensive Plan, and more. Working as a cohesive unit, rather than individual agencies, will guarantee that we will be able to meet our long-term tree canopy goals.

It is not only important that we protect our trees, but that they are given every opportunity to prosper. Casey Trees strives to give our volunteers the information they need to provide support for their own trees, however, not every tree can have a guardian and our over 3,000 volunteers cannot support all District trees. UFD’s current website still mentions only street trees – while this may seem minor – it creates ample confusion for the public when thinking about trees throughout the entire District. If the agency website is still listing only street trees – how would the general public or other agency employees to know that UFD is responsible for so much more! Therefore, we ask DDOT and UFD, in conjunction with DOEE, DPR, DGS, and any other relevant agency, to meet and create a tree flow chart based on parcel type to make it clear what agencies are responsible for the maintenance and long-term success of different types of trees. This not only should streamline community input and prevent engagement that is sent to the wrong agency from being lost, it also develops public agency to engage on matters related to street and park trees.

As we think about our tree canopy goals, we need to remember that our successes are due to effective coordination between agencies, residents, and non-profit organizations. It is because of this combined effort that, at last measured, there are over 2.2 million trees throughout the District. Casey Trees values the partnership that has been built on a joint goal to connect people to their communities through trees and we look forward to continuing this work.

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

1Possibly one similar to the Stormwater Retention Credit (SRC) Trading Program, which allows participants to earn revenue for projects that reduce harmful stormwater runoff by installing green infrastructure or by removing impervious surfaces