April 24, 2017
Testimony of Mark Buscaino, Executive Director, Casey Trees
Committee on Transportation and the Environment
DDOT Budget Oversight Hearing
Good afternoon, my name is Mark Buscaino, Executive Director of Casey Trees. Our mission is: To Restore, Enhance and Protect the Tree Canopy of our Nation’s Capital. Thank you for the opportunity to testify.
As recently noted in the Sustainable DC Plan update, the latest satellite imagery, verified by Casey Trees, shows that DC’s tree canopy has increased from 36 to 38 percent. That equates to roughly 700 football fields worth of tree leaves – about the size of the National Mall. The District, especially this Council, and its partners should feel proud of an achievement that has escaped every major American city except our own.
As we think about what’s required next to attain the city’s 40 percent goal, it helps to remember how we got to where we are today. It started with Mayor Williams who reinvested in the Urban Forestry Administration (UFA) and formalized the District Department of the Environment – now the Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE). Like many of us I thought that these changes would produce immediate results, but I was mistaken – it took more than a decade for the dust to settle and the pieces to fall into place. Today UFA and DOEE are leading the way, with both groups and their extended partner network planting over 12,000 trees every year, and more recently; co- chairing the Urban Forest Advisory Council which is successfully coordinating agency, resident and non-profit efforts to preserve and plant more trees than any one group may do in a vacuum.
I mention this history for one key reason – to stress that through all the challenges along the road that would otherwise have derailed this effort, the city and its partners have maintained their focus and support, and we urge the Council to continue this support regarding UFA’s budget.
In order to achieve the 40% goal, we need to continue investing in DC’s trees at rates that equal or exceed past levels. For the Urban Forestry Administration, this means that they must be provided adequate resources to continue planting 8,000 street trees each year for an additional four years (2018 – 2021) at which time DC will have a full component of 160,000 street trees. After that, to keep up with natural mortality, UFA will need sufficient funding to plant approximately 5,000 street trees each year.
To grow healthy street trees, it’s also important to consider not just the tree above ground, but the soil below: greater soil volumes produce healthier, longer-lived trees. Recognizing this, in 2014 DDOT enacted its Green Infrastructure (GI) Standards which mandate minimum street tree soil volumes for developments that impact the public right-of-way. Over time this standard will transform DC’s street tree canopy by improving tree health and longevity while reducing maintenance costs. However, we are concerned that there are no UFA staff monitoring these installations. Therefore, we request that UFA’s budget include two new staff persons to ensure compliance with the GI Tree Box Standards and to inspect and ensure protection of existing trees on new developments during the construction process.
Finally, the Tree Canopy Protection Amendment Act significantly increased UFA’s mandate. UFA is now responsible for managing and replanting not just street trees, but also trees on parks, schools and other District owned lands, and; conducting mortality checks on all trees planted with Tree Fund dollars. We therefore urge this committee to ensure that UFA has sufficient funds to support its new duties.
In summary, the city’s commitment to its tree canopy over past two decades is making DC a greener, healthier and more vibrant place to live, work and play for its residents. We urge this Council to ensure adequate resources are provided to UFA so it may:
1. Plant 8000 street trees each year until the year 2021
2. Plant 5000 street trees in year 2022 onward
3. Hire two new staff to ensure compliance with DDOT’s Green Infrastructure Standards
4. Ensure UFA has sufficient resources and personnel so it may effectively carry out its new
duties as mandated by the Tree Canopy Protection Amendment Act of 2016.
Thank you for listening.