Jul 8, 2022 - News

A tree plan grows in Columbus

Illustration of a tree branch growing in the shape of an upward trending line with an arrow.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Though it may take years for Columbus' burgeoning urban forestry plan to come to fruition, the city believes that effort is well worth it.

What's happening: Columbus rolled out a master plan last year for preserving, documenting and planting new trees in every local neighborhood — and that plan is now beginning to take shape.

  • The Recreation and Parks Department is using city funding to pay for tree planting and maintenance.

Why it matters: Tree-filled parks and streets offer a better quality of life by reducing air pollution, providing shade and naturally filtering stormwater not to mention they're just pretty dang beautiful.

  • Development remains a major threat to tree cover, leading the city to better prioritize public arboriculture and work to persuade private landowners to preserve their own trees.

What they're saying: "Trees should be considered just as critical infrastructure as our roads, our trails and everything else that our residents need," Rosalie Hendon, the city's urban forestry project manager, tells Axios.

  • "Trees are part of the solution to so many issues in our urban environment."

Details: Columbus is taking both a "top down" and "bottom up" approach to collecting data that will drive its goals over the coming decades.

  • A tree canopy assessment uses aerial imagery to determine tree coverage, and a separate inventory project involves arborists counting every tree on public land and documenting each type, condition and age.
  • Both efforts will help develop a more proactive approach to tree maintenance while identifying potential locations for planting new trees.

By the numbers: Most trees are on private property, but there are still more than 100,000 "public trees" across the city.

  • As of 2015, just 22% of Columbus was covered by trees, a low canopy percentage compared to other metro areas. Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, for example, boast nearly double the tree cover.
  • The goal is for Columbus to be at 40% by 2050.

The intrigue: City leaders are prioritizing equity with future planting projects, seeking to target not just areas with low canopy cover, but also those lagging behind in other socioeconomic and health metrics.

The bottom line: Columbus has ambitious goals for becoming more tree friendly as the population keeps growing. Private landowners can help by preserving their trees for generations to come.

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