Washington, DC, is unique among the 20 states in the Northeastern Area of the USDA Forest Service. The District is a large urban center with an increasing population. This figure increases by approximately 661,251 people who travel primarily from Maryland and Virginia each work day in support of the federal government and other employers. There are several federally managed large green spaces but the city consists primarily of urban forest. Tree canopy currently covers approximately 35% of the city. The District of Columbia Urban Forestry Strategy proposes actions to address the three priority issues as determined by the Assessment of Urban Forest Resources. They are Increasing Urban Tree Canopy across all District Ownerships, Protecting and Improving Air and Water Quality and Building Urban and Community Program Capacity in Washington, DC. The Assessment also addresses two regional priority issues of importance to the District, the I-95 Megaregion and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
Planting and maintaining a healthy urban forest for the citizens of Washington, DC
Protecting urban tree canopy against insect and disease outbreaks, exotic invasive species and other urban forest health issues
Enhancing urban tree canopy in the District in order to maximize air and water quality, wildlife habitat and forestry related green jobs training
Increasing Urban Tree Canopy across all District Ownerships: The unique division of land ownership in the District provides context as we look at urban tree canopy distribution and plans to increase overall urban tree canopy. According to land use data derived from the 2008 District of Columbia Urban Tree Canopy Assessment, land ownership is divided in the following way: District of Columbia government, 7%, Federal government, 43% and 50% Private land owners. To address our urban tree canopy goal and increase the canopy by 5%, we will have to plant trees in each ownership category but specifically in the private land ownership category. The urban tree canopy level in the Federal ownership category is currently 47%, which exceeds the 40% goal. Federal properties may have the least amount of flexibility because of the long term plans associated with such properties.
Protecting and Improving Air and Water Quality: Air and water quality in and around Washington, DC is impaired. One-third of the District of Columbia is served by a combined sewer system (CSS) that conveys sanitary sewage and stormwater in one system. During periods of significant rainfall, the capacity of a combined sewer may be exceeded. When this occurs, a mixture of storm water and sanitary wastes are discharged directly into the Anacostia River, Rock Creek, the Potomac River, or District tributary waters. The Washington DC Metro region is a non-attainment area for ground-level ozone and PM 2.5 (defined as fine particles in the (ambient) air 2.5 micrometers or less in size) according to federal health standards. The District’s urban tree canopy reduces stormwater runoff, particularly during the smaller rains that are most frequent and often carry high concentrations of pollutants. Based on current models, trees that overlap impervious areas tend to have greater ability to mitigate stormwater; this highlights the importance of planting and maintaining the street tree canopy. Urban tree canopy also has the benefit of modifying microclimates to decrease air temperatures which improve air quality.
Building Urban and Community Forestry Program Capacity: As a municipal agency simultaneously performing the functions of a state, the role of the State agency in building local capacity occurs on a much smaller and more hands-on scale in DC. Rather than building the capacity of cities and towns, UFA works to build the capacity of people, business districts, neighborhoods and wards. While UFA’s responsibility extends only to street trees, the same basic objective remains as state agencies increase the capacity of individuals and organizations working on the community level to better manage their local urban forests. In order to effectively manage the forest where people live and work, it is critical to engage all demographics in the District. Engaging underserved communities is a particular challenge, but the role trees play in revitalizing and sustaining communities is fundamental to their well-being. UFA pursues this goal through volunteer opportunities, technical training, and federal grants focused on developing an urban forestry workforce, fostering urban forestry projects, and building capacity of new organizations.