Breaking a promise to protect D.C.'s tree canopy

Sunday, June 27, 2010

In 2002, the D.C. Urban Forest Preservation Act, also known as the Tree Bill, was enacted. The law's primary purpose was to stop canopy loss by planting trees whenever healthy large trees were removed. The costs would be paid through a "Tree Fund" created by collecting fees from those removing trees for construction or other reasons. Now, the District's proposed fiscal 2011 budget would strip $539,000 from the Tree Fund, redirecting the money to the general fund.

Before this proposal emerged, significant questions already lingered about how the law was being implemented. There are no publicly available records to confirm where replacement trees have been planted and whether those trees are still alive. Now, with the Tree Fund depleted, the hope of replacing lost trees is gone. The loss of $539,000 equates to about 2,000 replacement trees.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and many D.C. Council members have touted their "green" goals, promising green jobs, green neighborhoods and a fishable, swimmable Anacostia River. Mr. Fenty also set an ambitious and attainable tree canopy goal to cover 40 percent of the city, for which he deserves credit. With this budget action, however, we must ask whether these promises are serious initiatives backed by sustained funding, or empty promises.

I urge the mayor and council to restore the Tree Fund money and plant the 2,000 trees that residents and those who paid fees into the fund are owed. Few things are "greener" than trees -- and nothing has as noticeable and powerful an impact on cooling neighborhoods, slowing stormwater and revitalizing communities. The District is known as the "City of Trees." Let's keep it that way.

Mark Buscaino, Washington

The writer is executive director of Casey Trees, a D.C.-based nonprofit that seeks to restore and protect the city's tree canopy. The organization said it does not receive money from the Tree Fund.

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