The blog Greater Greater Washington posted an article recently entitled “Street tree care: How can it improve?” In it, Geoff Hatchard covered the struggles associated with working to both expand the urban tree canopy with new trees and ensure existing trees are maintained through their maturity. His proposed solutions included planting fewer trees so more money can be put into watering, as well as better engaging residents in maintaining the trees near their homes.
DDOT’s Urban Forestry Administration (UFA), responsible for managing the city’s street trees, agrees with Mr. Hatchard’s overall assessment and would like to take this opportunity to explain how street tree maintenance works and explore ways that it could be improved.
UFA “DDOT Trees” operates under two guiding requirements that mandate a certain amount of tree planting. The US Environmental Protection Agency’s MS4 Permit requires the District government to plant at least 4,150 trees every year. UFA currently plants about 3,500 trees every year, accounting for about 60% of all 6,000 trees planted in the District and about 70% of all trees planted specifically by District government. In addition, Mayor Fenty has mandated a canopy increase from 35% to 40% by the year 2035. That requires an average of over 8,000 trees planted by public and private entities every year and a strong focus on maintaining the health of mature trees that comprise a majority of the canopy.
As part of tree planting contracts, UFA’s private contractors water and guarantee the trees they plant for one year. UFA inspects all new trees after that year and identifies those that have not survived. Contractors are not responsible for tree death due to vandalism, bikes being chained to trees, or vehicular accidents. In addition, federal stimulus has funded UFA crews to water new trees in the District’s combined sewer overflow area (Wards 1, 4, and 6) and the Green Summer youth jobs program waters quite a few more. These crews, however, simply do not have the staff or funding to water every tree as often as it needs.
Major cities in the U.S. and around the world rely heavily on volunteer citizens to help maintain trees. DDOT Trees also engages the public as a partner in keeping the District’s canopy green and healthy as we can always use more help. The more the public engages, the more our professional staff (all ISA certified arborists with at least Bachelor degrees in forestry or related fields) can use their technical expertise to maintain the health of mature trees so fewer new trees need to be replaced.
As part of a new effort to break down bureaucratic walls and establish a stronger relationship with the public that better reflects the passion, energy and expertise of our staff, the Urban Forestry Administration will soon operate publicly under the name d.Trees (DDOT Trees).
New technology platforms, a revamped Canopy Keepers tree adoption program, innovative community grant funding and targeted outreach to engage underserved communities are all part of this new d.Trees effort to build a stronger community of residents, businesses and local non-profits that water, plant, and keep an eye on trees. In a tree box, there is only room for one tree, whether it is fifty inches in circumference or two. Our goal is to keep those 50 inch trees around as long as possible. To achieve that goal, we need all hands on deck.