DGS Testimony of Leah Harnish 03-06-2020

Councilmember Robert White 
Committee on Facilities and Procurement 
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW 
Washington, D.C. 20004 
March 6, 2020 

Subject: Casey Trees Comments: Performance Oversight for the Department of General Services 

Casey Trees is a D.C. based nonprofit with the mission to restore, enhance and protect the tree canopy of our nation’s capital. To do this, we plant trees, advocate for tree and green space protection and teach students of all ages about the value of trees.  

DGS’s mission is to build, maintain and sustain. While frequently this is translated into building repair and contract procurement, this mission also extends to their goals of environmental stewardship and incorporating the use of best management practices into their work. Casey Trees regularly engages in tree care and maintenance. We recognize the amount of work it takes to support a diverse portfolio of locations and sites across the District and thank DGS for their hard work. Their successes frequently go unrecognized and we want to commend them for the part they play in building and maintaining a vibrant D.C.  

With increasing energy efficiency, sustainability and resiliency goals for District buildings, now more than ever, it is important that DGS uses green building techniques when renovating and updating buildings within their portfolio. We encourage DGS to use trees and landscape planning as a way to reduce energy use and increase building sustainability and climate readiness. When properly placed, trees reduce energy consumption for heating and cooling by up to 25 percent1 and increase heating and cooling unit efficiency by as much as 10 percent. Buildings are one of the District’s biggest carbon emitters and trees are a low cost, natural way to help the District reach its building efficiency goals while also beautifying the local environment. We also urge DGS to preserve trees when possible during these renovations and plant new trees when existing are removed. Trees do more than increase building efficiency. They help manage stormwater, which decreases flooding around buildings; they mitigate the urban heat island effect, decreasing temperatures by up to 22 degrees; and improve both indoor and outdoor air quality by up to 50 percent. If we are to reach our 40 percent tree canopy goal and build a truly resilient D.C., we must continue to build on our existing tree canopy by planting more trees, maintain the trees that are already planted and sustain them, by protecting them so they can grow to maturity.   

However, the value of trees is more than environmental. Trees improve peoples’ physical and mental health; they promote traffic safety and help residents build a sense of place within their community.  

Alone, one tree provides many community benefits, but when trees are clustered, these benefits compound exponentially. When trees are removed, it significantly impacts the entire community, not just because of the environmental benefits lost, but because of the intrinsic value those trees brought. Unfortunately, the existing urban forestry law only protects to trees on private land. The current Urban Forest Preservation Act applies to all trees 44 inches in circumference or larger. However, only landowners that are considered “persons” or “nongovernmental entities” are required to apply for a permit or receive agency approval before they remove the tree. Because of this, the existing law has been interpreted to not apply to trees on government land, despite the fact that the definition of these trees holds no such restriction. There are hundreds of thousands of trees on District land that should be protected by the Urban Forest Preservation Act and the government should be held to the same tree protection standards as their private counterparts. We urge the Council to expand this law to protect all of D.C.’s trees, not just those on private land 

 Another way to ensure we are protecting our urban forest is by knowing who is responsible for it. It can be hard to know what agency is responsible for what tree because frequently, the one that owns the land may not be the one that manages or maintains it. We ask DGS to work with DDOT, DOEE and DPR to create an organizational flow chart showing who cares for the trees in these different spaces. Our public trees provide immeasurable value to District residents and many are eager to help protect and maintain these trees. Unfortunately, they do not always know whom to contact. 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 work DGS does touches everyone who lives in or visits the District. From facilities management to renewable energy procurement, the breadth and depth of their work and their ability to do it can greatly impact the entire District. We commend DGS for their tireless efforts and urge the Council to provide them with sufficient funding to continue to do this work in the coming year. 

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Department of General Services’ 2019 performance. If you have any questions or would like clarification or further information about anything mentioned in my comments, I can be reached at lharnish@caseytrees.org or 202-349-3478. 
Leah Harnish 
Policy Analyst 
Casey Trees