Chesapeake Bay region loses ground in effort to increase tree canopy
“Net loss” graphic credit: Michele A. Danoff/Graphics by Design

Looking at the skinny elm sapling reaching for the sky in his backyard, James Bryant said that he hopes he lives long enough to be able to sit under its canopy and read a book in summer.

Bryant’s neighborhood in Charlottesville, VA, has the dubious distinction of being the hottest in town. Walking the blocks around the intersection of 10th and Page streets, it’s easy to see why—trees that could offer some shady relief from the broiling summer sun are few and far between.

“We couldn’t sit out until late evening to have cookouts because it was so hot,” he said.

Like many communities across the Chesapeake Bay watershed, Charlottesville and its nonprofit partners are trying to change that. Bryant has a new crape myrtle in his tiny front yard and a pair of nascent shade trees out back, courtesy of volunteers with the Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards. This fall, the city’s Tree Commission is going door to door in the neighborhood looking for at least 20 more homeowners willing to have trees planted in their yards.

Despite such efforts, the city is losing mature trees faster than it can plant new ones. Across town, pink and orange surveyor’s tape hangs from dozens of large trees in an 8-acre woods that a developer plans to clear to build 47 new homes. Another 12-acre woodland nearby was rezoned earlier this year, also for housing development.

“Rather than robust and flourishing, Charlottesville’s overall tree canopy continues to decline at an accelerating rate,” the Tree Commission warned last year. From 2014 to 2018, the city lost nearly 80 acres of leafy canopy, a 3% reduction, a new set of data show.

Charlottesville is far from alone. The new figures, compiled by scientists working as part of the state-federal Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort, show that communities in the Bay watershed cumulatively suffered a net loss of more than 29,000 acres in urban tree canopy during that time span.

Those losses come despite a pledge made in 2014 by all of the Bay watershed states—Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York and West …


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