Tree Commission briefs Council on canopy decline, annual report

At their meeting on January 19, Charlottesville City Council got a briefing from the Charlottesville Tree Commission on their annual report.

“This past December marked ten years since Council established the commission with the charge to ‘protect and improve the urban forest in pursuit of a better quality of life for city residents and environmental and aesthetic benefits,” said Brian Menard, the chair of the Tree Commission.  

Menard said both planting more trees and preserving ones that exist are critical to maintain an urban forest, and that the benefits of doing so are many. 

“These include public health, energy conservation, environmental sustainability, water and air quality, stormwater management, and environmental and social justice,” Menard said. 

Menard said the percentage of Charlottesville’s 10.4 square miles covered by trees is dropping, and an aerial study will be conducted later this year to confirm initial analysis that the city has lost 460 acres of tree canopy since 2004 due to development and to the city not meeting its goals.

“The goal of planting two hundred trees a year has not been met in each of the last four years,” Menard said. “Planting has not kept pace with removals. They average about 129 trees a year, which is 65 percent of the planting goal.”

Menard said many new developments are not planting what they should, which leads to more urban heat and less shade. 

“To be clear, the Commission understands and supports the need for more housing especially the critical need for affordable housing, but it believes that there must be a balance that recognizes another critical need which is to preserve and expand our green infrastructure,” Menard said. 

Menard noted that neighborhoods with lower tree canopies are the ones with lower-incomes. 

“Simply put, less shade equals higher levels of heat, negative health outcomes, and higher energy costs,” Menard said. “Neighborhoods with tree canopy below 40 percent are effectively unhealthy neighborhoods.”

Menard said members of the Tree Commission want to make sure the update of the zoning code and Comprehensive Plan reflects the need for more trees. They also would like funding restored for tree planting. That line item was eliminated in the current fiscal year and put in a reserve to deal with potential revenue shortfalls that turned out to have materialized. 

Take a look at the report to learn more. (FY20 annual report)

(FY20 annual report)

Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the January 20, 2021 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

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