Testimony for DDOT Budget Oversight Hearing FY 2015-2016

Testimony of
Mark Buscaino, Executive Director, Casey Trees
April 8, 2016
Committee on Transportation and the Environment
DDOT Budget Oversight Hearing; FY 2015 – 2016

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. I am testifying today to
voice significant concern over the Mayor’s proposed tree budget as concerns the Urban Forestry
Administration – UFA.

For those of us who remember, the early 2000’s marked a grim time for DC’s trees. The Tree
Management Administration – now the Urban Forestry Administration – was in crisis.
Understaffed and under-funded, it was doing its best to manage a backlog of 10,000 requests,
4000 standing dead trees, and; hundreds of another type of backlog – permit requests from
residents wanting to do their part by planting trees in front of their homes at their own expense.
The Tree Management Administration was so overwhelmed that it couldn’t even process
requests from those wanting to pay to help it accomplish what it was trying but unable to do –
plant trees to replace the thousands that had been lost due to years of neglect.

Ironically, several decades prior the Tree Management Administration, with 137 staff members,
was one of the best agencies of its kind nationwide. Among its many strengths – its tree tracking
system – “MisTree” – was so advanced that arborists across the country would come to town to
see it – with the hopes of having their cities adopt similar technologies.

Fast forward from the early 2000’s to today and the Urban Forestry Administration has been
transformed once again into a nationally recognized urban tree management unit. But it hasn’t
been easy or quick – rebuilding UFA spanned four Mayors and 15 years. But our memories are
short – and despite this recent painful experience – the struggle to avoid the cycle of boom and
bust continues, and is foretold in the Mayor’s proposed tree budget that’s before you today.

On the tree planting side, UFA’s budget for contract tree planting over the past six years has
been about $3.3M per year, which has allowed UFA to bring the street tree population back
from 100,000 to 135,000 trees. While an incredible milestone, UFA still has not achieved a full
population, or “full stocking” of street trees – which is approximately 160,000 trees total.

To achieve full stocking and replace the approximately 4000 trees that are lost each year to
natural mortality, car collisions, road repairs and the like, the city needs to plant 8000 trees for
the next six years. At $350 per tree this translates into $3M dollars annually through FY ’22 – or
$18M total over six years. After that – barring unusual circumstances, street tree planting could
then be reduced to $1.5M – $2.0M/year to maintain full stocking levels.

The Mayor’s budget, by contrast, requests a paltry $4.3M total for planting over the next six
years – an 80% reduction over current levels. Under this scenario only 2000 trees will be planted
annually. With mortality at about 4000 trees per year, that means that the city will permanently
lose 2000 trees every year – or 12,000 total over the life of the budget cycle bringing the total
street tree population from 135,000 to approximately 123,000.

Regarding tree maintenance and personnel expenditures, the Mayor’s budget reduces these lines
from 25.7M to $19.6M – or 25% total. I have heard residents and council members alike speak
about how responsive UFA is to constituent requests, that they are professional, courteous,
process permits in a timely fashion, and; respond to tree maintenance and removal needs quickly
and appropriately. UFA staff are effective because they are well trained and have the time and
resources to respond professionally and on-time. The Mayor’s proposed cut-backs will erode the
hard-fought gains they’ve made and the goodwill they’ve built to constituencies City-wide.

These cuts are particularly concerning given that just last December, DDOT and DOEE hosted a
city-wide Tree Summit. From it the City committed to planting an additional 3000 trees over
current levels, the Mayor created an Urban Forest Coordinating Council to provide more focus
on the city’s tree issues, and; more recently – this Committee voted favorably on the Tree
Canopy Protection Amendment Act of 2016 – an Act that will expand UFA’s tree planting and
maintenance authority to all DC lands. These are incredible policy victories the City should be
proud of – but they are empty victories if funding support is withdrawn.

The story I began with today of boom and bust is not new but it is recent, and as you likely
remember – painful. But over the past 15 years the City has completely rebuilt its tree
management function and some of the fruits of that labor can be seen in the Exhibits A – D
attached. These Exhibits, based on data from our Tree Report Cards and the DC Open Data
website, speak for themselves. The gains made in tree planting, constituent response times, tree
removal and other key performance indicators are clear.

The dark days of inadequate tree planting, standing dead trees and thousands of constituent
complaints are finally behind us – let’s keep them there. Please fully fund UFA’s budget so they
can continue planting 8,000 trees each year for the next six years to achieve a full population of
street trees, and; fully fund existing staffing and tree maintenance levels so UFA may maintain
DC’s iconic tree resource in a manner befitting this – our City of Trees.

Thank you
Mark Buscaino

Exhibit A

Notes:

  • Data taken from Casey Trees Tree Report Card Statistics
  • Establishment of Tree Canopy Goals first in 2008 and again in 2013 with the Sustainable
    DC Plan has been a strong motivator to increase tree planting city-wide.
  • Of all the tree planting groups, UFA is the largest.
  • Without UFA’s efforts, the city will not achieve its canopy goals over the long term.
  • DC’s street tree population at approximately 135,000, is notable but still only about 85%
    full at 160,000. Budget cutbacks will trigger a slow but marked decline in the city’s
    street trees to approximately 123,000 over the next six years.
  • The green arrow represents a general trend line in UFA’s ability to manage large citywide
    tree planting contracts. It has taken years to build up to this point; proposed
    cutbacks will erode UFA’s ability to continue functioning successfully along this trend
    line.

Exhibit B

  • Data taken from DC Open Data

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