Sep 20, 2023 - News

Columbus sees momentum for local tree growing plan

Illustration of a pen with a tree growing out of the top.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Columbus arborists are starting to see an urban forest for the trees.

Driving the news: A citywide plan is underway to preserve public trees and plant new ones, while local leaders will eye code changes this fall to protect tree coverage.

Why it matters: Trees reduce air pollution, provide shade and absorb rainwater to prevent flooding.

The big picture: Columbus set ambitious goals two years ago to stop net canopy loss by 2030 and eventually increase the overall tree coverage to 40% by planting more trees in targeted neighborhoods.

  • The Recreation and Parks Department spent years documenting the location and health of every tree on public grounds to guide these efforts.

What they found: The department tallied 125,796 trees, most of which are in "good" or "fair" condition.

  • Columbus is home to 330 unique tree species, with maple being the most common species among them.
  • There are wide disparities in tree coverage between neighborhoods — Clintonville is one of the largest areas, with 41% of it shaded by trees, while Italian Village and downtown are at the bottom at 11% and 9% respectively.

The intrigue: Researchers also tracked neighborhood statistics on health, crime, education and diversity to help guide future tree planting.

  • One high priority area is the Hilltop, where a collection of historic white oak trees stand in Westgate Park.
  • City arborists are growing a new generation of white oaks to eventually replant there.

Across the whole city, there are 96,500 available planting spaces located primarily on tree lawns between streets and sidewalks.

  • Most of them can accommodate medium- and large-sized trees.

What they're saying: "The larger the tree the more environmental benefits [it provides]," senior environmental planner Rosalie Hendon tells Axios.

  • She's glad to have inventory data as a "road map" to proactively replace trees in poor health rather than just reacting to storms and residential 311 requests.

What's next: The Recreation and Parks Department wants a tree code change that mandates new trees be planted if any are removed for development and infrastructure projects.

  • At a committee hearing last week, City Councilman Emmanuel Remy called the proposal "an important step" in the work to protect local trees.
  • Council members are expected to vote on tree code amendments later this year.

How you can support local trees

🧠 Be smart about your neighborhood. Columbus has dozens of reports highlighting your area's tree species, conditions and potential planning sites.

ğŸ”Ž Learn how to better identify them. City forester Steve Horhut will host a free "tree walk" for residents at 10am Oct. 3 in Whetstone Park.

🌳 Snag and plant a free tree. Green Columbus is offering tree giveaways next month and you can reserve one online.

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