Study shows city losing 54,000 trees yearly; Mayor seeks public input to reverse the decline
Releasing a first-of-its-kind survey that shows Louisville is losing 54,000 trees a year, Mayor Greg Fischer today called for public input to help reverse the trend.
The year-long study shows that the city’s tree canopy has declined from 40 percent to 37 percent in eight years—the result of insect damage, ice storms, trees not being replaced and many other factors.
“A poor tree canopy isn’t just an aesthetic issue, it’s a business, homeowner and health issue – trees bring huge value to our city and its citizens,” Fischer said. “Reversing this decline must be a true community initiative.”
Fischer urged citizens and businesses to provide input and ideas, through the end of May, on the Tree Canopy Study -- which can be downloaded here. Input can be given on the Tree Canopy Study comment page or submitted to the Sustain Louisville Facebook page. In addition to public comments, the city will hold a series of public meetings. The first meeting is scheduled for Thursday, May 14, 6:30 at Louisville Metro Hall, 527 W. Jefferson St.
Fischer said citizen input will be combined with the results of the city’s ongoing Urban Heat Island study, which will help complement the canopy study and provide further data on the tree canopy decline. That will lead to a citywide tree strategy and a citywide annual tree planting goal that will be announced later this fall -- in time for the peak planting season.
A depleted tree canopy leads to higher energy bills for businesses and homes, and makes the city physically hotter, which exacerbates health issues especially for the sick and elderly. Fischer said it also makes Louisville less desirable compared to cities with greater canopies – and it affects property values.
“Only a limited number of major US cities have undertaken a comprehensive urban tree canopy assessment, and none has developed a plan for managing extreme heat,” said Brian Stone, Associate Professor in the City and Regional Planning Program of the Georgia Institute of Technology, who is conducting Louisville’s heat island study. “The coordination of these planning efforts ensures not only that Louisville will become a greener city in the coming years, but that the investments made in tree canopy will yield the greatest health and environmental benefits to the city's residents.”
The canopy study concludes that trees in Louisville provide $330 million in services each year to our community, including costs avoided by keeping water out of the sewers as well as removing carbon dioxide from the air.
Fischer said his administration has already taken steps to address the tree problem, including the creation of the Tree Advisory Commission, hiring a city Urban Forester, and making tree planting a strategic goal for the Brightside organization.
The study, completed by Davey Resource Group, also showed there are disparities in neighborhoods. Neighborhoods with the largest tree canopy — and therefore neighborhoods that see the biggest benefits from trees -- are Cherokee Gardens and Iroquois Park. Areas where the tree canopy is lowest are Phoenix Hill, Algonquin and California.
Fischer also announced the creation of a new, non-profit group, Trees Louisville. The new entity, which is being funded by local philanthropist Henry Heuser, will be dedicated to raising money to plant and maintain trees -- and engaging the public in encouraging tree plantings. The executive director will be local gardening expert and former broadcaster Cindi Sullivan.
Fischer said there are many things citizens can do today to help, including planting a tree then reporting it on Brightside’s tree tracker count. He also urged people to organize tree plantings for the annual Give A Day week of service, which is April 18-26.
The American Forests organization recommends a tree canopy of 45 percent.
“Clearly, we have significant work to reach the recommended canopy. It will take many years, decades even, to accomplish that goal. But our environment, our health and our community deserve and demand that we start now,” Fischer said.