Thanks to research demonstrating the many benefits of trees in cities, your community’s percentage of tree canopy cover can be considered a measure of community health, vitality, and quality.
Each of Washington’s largest cities has assessed their tree canopy percentage in recent years:
- Seattle (28%)
- Spokane (22%)
- Tacoma (19%)
- Vancouver (18%)
Many smaller cities in the Puget Sound region have done the same.
In each case, the canopy cover percentage is symbolic of a resource at risk. It is far easier to lose tree canopy than it is to gain it.
Just one mature tree with a large and healthy canopy may have lived for 60 years or more but can easily be removed in an afternoon. Replacing it with a 2” caliper tree means a looooong wait to recoup that lost leaf area.
Unless your community is taking steps to protect and plant trees, then your tree canopy is likely declining, but canopy loss is not a given. We can stem the tide of canopy loss or even increase the canopy through collective action.
Here are strategies that communities are using to protect and enhance their tree canopy:
- Assess tree canopy and set a goal. Seattle wants to reach 30% tree canopy by 2037. Tacoma aims at a more aggressive target of 30% by 2030. Reassess canopy over time to measure progress.
- Plant trees. City-owned lands such as parks and street rights-of-way, large institutional properties such as schools or business parks, and private residential properties have hundreds (if not thousands) of places to plant trees. Some cities offer tree giveaways or cost-share programs for planting on private property.
- Remove unnecessary impervious cover to create new planting spaces and enlarge other planting spaces to the greatest extent possible. The more root-able soil you have, the healthier trees will be.
- Follow best practices for tree maintenance. This can extend the life of trees and retain more canopy, longer.
- Remove invasive plants and replant with natives. Invasive plants can smother natural ecosystems, threatening the health of native trees in natural areas.
- Conservation easements. Putting forested landscapes into conservation easements protects land from future development.
- Acquire/annex forested lands for public benefit. Not all cities have this opportunity, and it can be costly, but it is an option in some cases.
- Enact or strengthen requirements to plant and protect trees. Construction projects pose significant risks to existing trees and some tree removal is inevitable. Local ordinances can limit removal, maximize protections, and require replacement planting.
- Tree removal permits. Some cities require permits to remove trees from private property.
- Set up a municipal revolving account. Permit fees, fines, fees-in-lieu, and other monies collected through enforcement of the tree ordinance can be set aside to fund canopy enhancement projects throughout the city.
- Public outreach and education. Teaching residents how to protect and care for their trees is a wise investment.
- Form a citizen tree committee. A committee is a vehicle for public input on all existing and proposed policies affecting your city’s tree canopy.
The more strategies you can employ, the better your chances are to protect your community’s canopy and the many benefits they provide.