The 16th Annual
Tree Report Card
The State of DC's Trees



Casey Trees’ mission is to restore, enhance, and protect the tree canopy of our nation’s capital. We pursue that mission through tree planting, education, community action and land preservation. To guide our efforts and those of our partners, each year we publish a Tree Report Card (TRC) that measures progress toward achieving the District’s 40% tree canopy goal, and the extent and condition of DC’s trees.

Note from the Executive Director

Note from the Executive Director

I think most would agree that teaching youngsters about the importance of trees and greenspace is critical to the sustainability – and livability – of our cities and towns. Knowledge gained from environmental education and outdoor experiences often transforms into productive civic engagement. At Casey Trees we see this concept in action every time someone plants a tree, saves a tree by removing damaging vines, or advocates for stronger tree protections before the Washington, DC City Council.

Every year Casey Trees’ staff teaches thousands of students about the importance of trees and urban forestry. Alongside the curriculum, our team harvests trees at our tree nursery in Berryville, VA and works with the same students to plant hundreds of trees within their schoolyards. This “teaching and doing” approach is incredibly powerful and highlights the fact that urban schoolyards can and should be – green schoolyards.

This year’s Tree Report Card takes a more in-depth look at DC’s schools, how their tree canopies stack up, and what could be done to make them better. When students are exposed to trees where they spend a large part of their day, they not only internalize the benefits that trees and greenspace offer – they also pass those lessons along to others, perpetuating the cycle of learning, growing, and giving back to the community.

Mark's Headshot
Marks signature

Mark Buscaino,
Executive Director

Spotlight: School Tree Canopy

Spotlight: School Tree Canopy

For our 2023 Tree Report Card we compiled canopy data from every DC school – public, charter and private. We found that school tree canopy averages 13%, far below the overall DC average of 37%. We also found that canopy varies wildly from school to school, and by school type. While school campuses understandably have outdoor space needs that compete for trees and greenspace, as the charts below illustrate, the canopy percentages we found are extremely low.

School Type and Average Canopy

School Grade Level Average Canopy
Elementary Schools 12.3%
Middle Schools 11.7%
High Schools 11.7%
Others* 17.7%
All Schools 13.0%
School Type Average Canopy
Private 23.5%
Charter Schools 11.1%
Public Schools 10.1%
All Schools 13.0%

*includes shared campuses, pre-k schools, and adult programs.

These numbers are sobering because simply put, a tree-filled schoolyard makes sense. A healthy tree canopy keeps impervious play areas cooler, filters particulates and most surprisingly – views of green have been shown to reduce anxiety and improve test scores. While many DC schools do not have sufficient land area to achieve 40% canopy, our analysis shows that most could still significantly increase their canopy coverage and potentially double it – or more. The following summary shows average tree coverage amongst all schools by Ward, the canopy they could have if all available space (excludes play areas, etc.) were planted, and – canopy trends from 2015 - 2020.

DC Schools Tree Canopy Data
(Averages among all schools by Ward)

Ward Existing Canopy Potential Canopy Canopy Change 2015-2020
1 7.8% 15.9% +0.5%
2 4.7% 18.5% -1.5%
3 16.5% 39.7% -0.3%
4 8.9% 25.1% +0.8%
5 12.5% 32.8% -1.6%
6 5.1% 21.9% -2.5%
7 12.8% 41.5% -2.2%
8 14.1% 32.9% -0.8%

Data Conclusions

There are three main takeaways to this data. First, school canopies are not spread equally across the city, geographically or by school types. Where families live and the schools they have access to therefore directly impacts their ability to reap the benefits we see from having nature near our schools. Second, except for Wards 1 and 4, canopy in all schools is declining – Wards 3 and 8 have the highest average canopy at 16.5% and 14.1% respectively, while the more densely built Wards 1 and 6 have the lowest at 7.8% and 5.1%. Finally, there’s plenty of room for improvement. For example, while things appear challenging for Wards 1 and 6 schools, with some planting Ward 1 schools could double their tree canopy and Ward 6 schools could quadruple theirs.

In short, the tree canopy shading DC’s schools is extremely low – significantly lagging the city overall. Further, as the existing and potential canopy figures show, there is no real good reason for this, and with sufficient focus, canopy cover for all schools city-wide could increase. As our Tree Report Card has recommended now for the past two years, establishing school canopy goals and encouraging tree planting could significantly improve school environments for both students and staff.

Below we’ve showcased three schools to highlight the unique challenges and opportunities schools face in trying to increase their tree canopy, and enhance environmental education throughout DC.

Case Studies

School Redevelopment

School Without Walls
at Francis Stevens

Ward 4

Current Canopy Cover: 11.4%

Potential Canopy Cover: 14.8%

School Without Walls at Francis Stevens is located in the West End neighborhood of Ward 2, directly abutting Rock Creek Park. There is a walking trail connecting Rock Creek Park to the school's campus and canopy overlap between the Park and campus, providing accessible greenspace to the community and students. Currently, School Without Walls operates from a satellite location at the Banneker campus in Ward 1 while renovations are underway.

the corner of the building with construction fencing street tree in front of the facade of the building the marquee for the school reading Francis Stevens Education Campus

School Without Walls demonstrates a pressing challenge similar to other schools that are undergoing redevelopment are grappling with – the difference between the existing and potential canopy coverage is small, and renovations often require tree removal to meet architectural and related requirements. For example, some of the trees planted by Casey Trees in 2016-18 will be lost. This could include up to 10 trees, and some of the river birch, blackgum, and other shade trees that have been growing tall now for close to a decade. On the plus side, several existing larger trees will be saved and will be included as part of an outdoor classroom space. We are glad to see that outdoor education is being incorporated into these plans, and that this space will provide more educational opportunities for the students at School Without Walls.

Riversmart Schools

Simon Elementary School

Ward 8

Current Canopy Cover: 22.1%

Potential Canopy Cover: 43.4%

Simon Elementary, near Oxon Run in Ward 8, is a RiverSmart school. The RiverSmart program, administered by the District Department of Energy and Environment, promotes green infrastructure stormwater solutions across Washington, DC. For Simon Elementary that means they’ve built rain gardens into their playground spaces, which filter and slows stormwater from heavy rains reducing negative impacts to streams and rivers. The raingardens are planted with native grasses, shrubs and trees, providing wildlife habitat and environmental benefit, while exposing students to environmental education concepts through demonstration.

the main Simon Elementary School Sign a hill with stairs and lots of trees the side of the building with a big lawn and many planted young trees

Simon Elementary’s tree canopy is mostly on the Mississippi Avenue side of the school. Significant campus land area is dedicated to play and recreation space, and Oxon Run Park is located directly behind the campus. Compared to most other schools, Simon has well above the average tree canopy and 50% of their grounds are covered in vegetation – partly due to the extensive rain gardens. However, with 22% existing and 43% potential tree canopy, there are still plenty of areas on campus that accommodate tree planting without impacting the schools’ active recreational spaces.

School Planting and Environmental Education Programs

Plummer Elementary School

Ward 7

Current Canopy Cover: 6.7%

Potential Canopy Cover: 11.5%

Plummer Elementary is in the Benning Ridge neighborhood of Ward 7, near Fort Chaplin Park. Plummer’s current canopy of 6.7% is low, but with 11.5% potential canopy, the school could effectively double its tree cover – a significant improvement. To help bridge that gap, Casey Trees recently planted 30 trees of 14 different species, most of which will grow into large, mature shade trees, at Plummer in the spring of 2023.

to the left of the entrance, many young trees with deer cages and the main sign even more trees in that same area another side of the building with lots of windows and some trees as tall as the building itself

In addition to tree planting, Plummer Elementary participates in Casey Trees’ Nature Near Schools program with our partner, Urban Adventure Squad. This program brings environmental education directly to students through hands-on outdoor learning opportunities such as teaching critical thinking through tree identification keys, science lessons focused on urban water cycles, storm drain art projects and related activities.


Our schools influence future generations and how they value trees, greenspaces, forests and the natural world. That’s why since our founding, Casey Trees has engaged schools, planting trees to revitalize campuses, while teaching students both indoors and out about the importance of trees and how nature can lend balance to our lives – findings that are based in science. A Stanford-led review of over 100 studies revealed that environmental education significantly improves critical thinking, teamwork and collaboration skills – an important counterbalance to our growing, and more isolated, digital world.

Many programs are available to re-tree school grounds, and bring nature to the classroom. The District Department of the Environment’s (DOEE) RiverSmart Homes program offers free trees for school reforestation. DOEE’s Nature Near Schools and Meaningful Watershed Education Experience Grants help facilitate hands-on outdoor learning programs. This year alone Casey Trees has served 26 schools through its environmental education programs in the 4th and 5th grade.

An actionable first step to increased multi-level school engagement is simply to make school campuses greener, and from the data showcased in this report, there’s plenty of room for improvement. We urge the District Department of Energy and Environment to lead this charge under its Sustainable DC program, working with partners both in and outside the DC Government to prioritize and fund this effort.

In the meantime, you can act now. If you are an educator, student, parent or simply an interested resident, and you want to re-tree your school or a school in your neighborhood, drop us a phone call or email. Casey Trees can help.



The Tree Report Card is Casey Trees’ annual evaluation of DC 's urban forest. It looks at where our successes have been over the past year and highlights where improvements can be made. This year, Casey Trees is pleased to announce that the District received an overall grade of B+.

Grade components explained

The Tree Report Card rates Washington, DC’s urban forest based on four metrics: Tree Coverage, Tree Health, Tree Planting and Tree Protection. Each metric is evaluated using a standard formula and given a letter grade. This year’s overall grade of B+ is based upon the average of four categories that are graded individually and explained in detail below.

2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 B- B- B- A A A A- A A- B B+

Tree Coverage

This metric measures the quantity of tree canopy covering District land. Aerial imagery – both satellite and fly-over images – is used to measure the City’s tree canopy from above and track progress toward DC’s 40 percent tree canopy goal on a 5-year cycle. The most recently collected data measured a 1% decline in canopy from 2015-2020, and canopy cover remains at 37%; therefore, Coverage receives an A- Grade.

light shining through vibrant green leaves

Calculations Explained

Existing tree canopy coverage/Tree canopy goal

37/40 = 92%

2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 A- A- A- A A A A A A- A- A-

Tree Health

This metric evaluates the quality of tree health and condition across the District on all lands – private and public – both DC and federally-owned. The grade was taken from the results of the USDA Forest Service’s (USFS) Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) survey. FIA is a sampling method used by USFS research to assess forests across the United States. More recently it is being deployed to look at the conditions of trees in US cities, DC being one of them.

From the FIA results, there are approximately 2 million trees within the District of Columbia. Of these 2 million trees, 90% of fell into the condition class of either “excellent” or “good,” resulting in a tree health grade of A-.

a team leader and volunteer protecting a tree with a deer cage

Calculations Explained

Healthy trees/
Trees surveyed
= 90%

2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 B- B- B- B- B- B- B- B- A- A- A-

Tree Planting

This metric compares the number of trees planted each year to the number required for the City to meet its 40% canopy goal. In total, 12,957 trees were planted by the City and its partners in 2023. This far exceeds the City’s annual planting target of 10,500 trees. The Tree Planting score for this year’s Tree Report Card therefore receives an A+ grade.

volunteers digging with shovels and a pickax

Calculations Explained

Total trees planted/tree planting goal

12,957/10,500 = 123%

2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 A- A+ A+ A+ A+ A+ A+ A+ A+ A+ A+

Tree Protection

This metric measures the effectiveness of the City’s laws in protecting Special and Heritage trees. The final grade for Tree Protection, is based on the average of the following three sub-metrics, as follows:

volunteers removing invasives

Calculations Explained

Average of Submetrics

Sub-metric 1: Are the fees/fines required to remove Special trees keeping pace with inflation?
The fee to remove a Special tree, set in 2016, is $55 per inch of circumference. In order to keep pace with inflation, that figure should be about $71 today. While this difference may seem small, it translates to an overall loss of $530,384 in fees, equivalent to fewer trees planted. We therefore assign this submetric a C grade. Tree fund permit receipts: $1,823,917, adjusted for inflation would be $2,358,301

Sub-metric 2: Are fees and fines being used to plant replacement trees?
The Urban Forest Preservation Act requires that fees and fines from tree law violations collected into the Tree Fund be used to plant trees on public and private land. Over the past three years approximately $300,000 in fines collected through Notices of Infraction were directed by the Office of Chief Financial Officer to the General Fund rather than the Tree Fund and so are not being used to plant replacement trees. Casey Trees has petitioned the Office of Chief Financial Officer to address this issue, but until rectified this metric receives a Failing grade.

Sub-metric 3: Are Heritage Trees being protected according to the law?
We do know that most Heritage trees are being protected: There were 278 requested removals of Heritage Trees ultimately denied because the trees were healthy, and 18 known illegal removals. While any illegal removal of a Heritage Tree is cause for concern, the number of illegal removals has declined from last year, indicating our newly strengthened tree laws are working. This metric receives an A- grade.[1]

2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 B- B- B- A A A A- A- B F C-

[1]Heritage Tree illegal removals:
2021- 24 illegal removals, 230 permit requests denied
2022 - 22 illegal removals, 478 permit requests denied
2023 – 18 illegal removals, 278 permit requests denied


This year's overall grade is a B+, calculated based upon the four categories.

aerial view of downtown dc

Calculations Explained

Calculated Average
= 89%

2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 B- B- B- A A A A- A A- B B+



Lower the Special Tree threshold from 44” circumference to 25” circumference. As we reported last year, despite its robust regulatory environment, DC continues to lose tree canopy. Lowering the circumference limit for Special Trees will protect more trees and slow canopy loss. This provision is in the Tree Enhancement Amendment Act of 2023, currently under consideration by the DC Council.


Increase fees and fines for the removal of Special and Heritage Trees to account for inflation. This is the fourth year the TRC made this recommendation, including most recently the Tree Enhancement Amendment Act of 2023. This adjustment is overdue and has resulted in the loss of thousands of replacement trees.


Ensure all fees and fines are deposited to the Tree Fund as required by law. Fines collected through the Office of Administrative Hearings have been misdirected to the City’s General Fund. Casey Trees testified to the Office of Chief Financial Officer regarding the misdirection at Performance Oversight hearings and asks OCFO to prioritize getting this process rectified.


Support the Office of Natural Areas Conservation Establishment Act of 2023. This legislation would better protect and support management of our city forest patches and natural areas and is currently under consideration by the DC Council.


Protect environmentally sensitive open spaces and forest patches from being developed by working with the DC Council, District agencies, and private landowners to identify greenspace that could be conserved in easements to further climate resilience and community access.


Establish tree canopy goals for public and private schools/universities. As spotlighted in our Tree Report Card this year, our city’s public schools average 13% tree canopy, far lower than the citywide goal of 40%. When students are taught in a green learning environment, they not only internalize the benefits that trees and greenspace offer – they also pass that lesson along to others in the communities where they live.


Fully fund environmental education programs in schools. In next year's budget, funding for programs mentioned in this Tree Report Card - like the Nature Near Schools and Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience programs - will be cut in half. We are advocating directly to the Council to restore funding, and we hope that this Tree Report Card demonstrates just how important environmental and outdoor education are to our students.


Casey Trees would like to thank the following partners for making trees a priority by planting, caring for and protecting them as well as sharing information used in this report.

District of Columbia

  • Department of Energy and the Environment
  • Department of Parks and Recreation
  • Department of Transportation: Urban Forestry Division
  • District Department of General Services
  • Office of the Chief Techonology Officer
  • Office of the Mayor
  • Office of Planning
  • Office of Zoning


  • USDA Forest Service
  • General Services Administration
  • National Park Service


  • American University
  • The Catholic University of America
  • Gallaudet University
  • Georgetown University
  • George Washington University
  • Howard University
  • University of DC

Local and Regional

  • 11th Street Bridge Project
  • Anacostia Coordinating Council
  • Anacostia Waterfront Trust
  • Anacostia Watershed Society
  • Arbor Day Foundation
  • Baltimore Tree Trust
  • Bartlett Tree Research Laboratories
  • Blue Drop
  • Building Bridges Across the River
  • Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdioceses of Washington
  • Chesapeake Bay Trust
  • Chesapeake Conservancy
  • City of College Park
  • City of Hyattsville
  • City of Mount Rainier
  • City of Takoma Park
  • Crimsonbridge Foundation
  • DC Environmental Network
  • DC Greens
  • DC Water
  • Fairfax County
  • Friends of Oxon Run

Local and Regional continued...

  • Groundwater Anacostia
  • Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake
  • Joe's Movement Emporium
  • Laudato Trees
  • Montgomery County
  • The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation
  • Mount Olivet Cemetery
  • National Capital Planning Commission
  • National Links Trust
  • Nature Sacred
  • Potomac Electric Power Company
  • Prince George’s County
  • Share Fund
  • Sustainable DC Partners
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Trees for Capitol Hill
  • Trees for Georgetown
  • Urban Adventure Squad
  • Washington Parks and People
  • Ward 8 Woods