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City Council Commits Money to Forestry Plan

Jesse Bethea Jesse Bethea City Council Commits Money to Forestry PlanPhoto by Walker Evans
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An effort to dramatically expand Columbus’ urban forest over the next two decades took another important step Monday night, when the Columbus City Council approved a new ordinance from the Recreation and Parks Committee funding the priorities established in the Urban Forestry Master Plan, released earlier this year. Council President Pro Tem and Chair of the Recreation and Parks Committee Elizabeth Brown introduced ordinance 2040-2021 which devotes $1.45 million to fulfill the needs of the Plan.

“A reminder of earlier this year, the Urban Forestry Master Plan, which this council passed a resolution in support of, and that plan establishes three goals,” said Brown. “To reach a citywide tree canopy cover of 40% by 2050, to stop net tree canopy losses by 2030, and to invest in equitable tree canopy across all neighborhoods.” 

Brown recited the various proven benefits of tree cover in an urban environment—cleaning the air, decreasing pollution from storm runoff , providing shade and promoting mental health and wellness. She also noted that tree canopy has historically been just as segregated as any other resource in Columbus. 

“The presence of trees too often tracks other markers of privilege in a neighborhood, like income and health factors,” said Brown. “The distribution of tree canopy is one of the enduring legacies of redlining.” 

Tree canopy in Columbus can range from as low as 9% in some neighborhoods to as high as 41% in others, and historically underserved neighborhoods like Franklinton, Milo-Grogan and South Linden have some of the lowest canopy percentages in the city. Not only is there significant disparity in tree canopy between neighborhoods, but the total tree canopy covering all of Columbus—about 22%—is smaller than that of Louisville, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis and Cincinnati.

“We are woefully behind and there is a lot of work to catch up,” said Councilmember Emmanuel Remy during Monday’s meeting. 

One challenge for building up the city’s urban forest is identifying where exactly the trees are growing right now. Rosalie Hendon, an environmental planner for the Recreation and Parks department, told Columbus Underground in February the last time Columbus completed a citywide inventory of street and park trees was in 1997. To that end, the new city ordinance modifies an existing Recreation and Parks contract with the Kent-based ecological service Davey Resource Group to continue a citywide street tree inventory. 

Both the Columbus Climate Action Plan draft—released in September 2020—and the Columbus Climate Adaptation Plan—released in December 2018 by The Ohio State University’s Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center—refer to tree canopy coverage as an essential tool to both mitigate and live with a changing climate.

The Action Plan notes that “tracking increased tree coverage will be needed to help manage both rising populations and expected temperatures” and calls for all Columbus neighborhoods to have a minimum 12% tree canopy by 2030, and equitable distribution of tree canopy in all neighborhoods by 2050. 

The Adaptation Plan identifies tree coverage as an important strategy for reducing the intensity of Columbus’ urban heat island.

“The lack of trees exacerbates the urban heat island, diminishes air quality, diminishes beneficial wildlife, and reduces aesthetic appeal of neighborhoods,” notes the Adaptation Plan. “For vulnerable populations, shade is especially important for quality of life, as homes might not have sufficient air conditioning for summer cooling.” 

The Adaptation Plan heavily references the Branch Out Columbus program, started in 2015 with the goal of planting 300,000 new trees by 2020. That previous forestry program had already largely failed when the Adaptation Plan was released, planting fewer than 40,000 new trees by 2018.

For more information, visit columbusufmp.org.

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