Stewards of our urban forest

We all have a connection to trees; whether it’s the fond memories of climbing trees as a kid, or there’s that beautiful flowering tree we keep an eye on as in our backyard as the seasons change, or maybe it’s not one tree but all the trees that provide shade on those hot summer days. Whatever your tree story is, I think we can all agree that trees are important to our lives even just for cleaning the air that we breathe.

Unlike a dense forest where there are layers of understory and continuous cycles of new growth from saplings, urban trees are often surrounded by impervious pavement and need human intervention just to survive. Urban trees don’t naturally regenerate when they are confined to small spaces and are more susceptible to human interference. For these reasons, our urban tree population is aging and suffering the impacts of land development across the city.

An innovator, by the name of Betty Brown Casey, read of the decline of D.C.’s tree canopy — 35% in 2011 compared to 50% tree canopy in 1950 — and decided to act on it. In 2002, she founded the organization Casey Trees to “restore, enhance and protect the tree canopy of the nation’s capital.”

Since then, Casey Trees has planted more than 23,000 trees — 4,003 trees in 2016 alone — and is committed to partnering with other stakeholders to achieve a 40% tree canopy by the year 2032, as outlined in Sustainable DC. Aside from advocating for better tree policies in the District and offering classes to the public to enhance urban forestry education, Casey Trees mobilizes hundreds of volunteers each year to plant in public spaces and schools. Additionally, Casey Trees has recognized the power of banning together; they have partnered with the Urban Forestry Administration to increase the number of D.C. street trees and with the DC Department of Environment, through the RiverSmart Homes program, to plant trees on residential property.

Thanks to the dedication from everyone at Casey Trees, and all their partners, D.C. has made significant progress towards the 40% canopy goal in the past decade. Though it hasn’t been a straight path to success, Casey Trees is well-regarded for their partnerships, commitment to tree care, enriching educational classes, and on-going advocacy for our urban forest.

Based on calculations from Casey Trees, the city needs to add 2,031 acres of canopy to reach the goal, which translates to 216,300 total new trees to be planted over the next 20 years — that means 8,600 trees per year split among all partners. And you can be a valued partner as well, sign up to volunteer, grab a shovel, and help plant a tree in the nation’s Capital.

How do you move the Planet Forward? Tweet us @planet_forward or contribute to the conversation with your own story.