TreesLouisville was launched by Mayor Greg Fischer in March 2015 in partnership with Henry Heuser, Jr. in response to the findings of the 2015 Louisville Urban Tree Canopy Assessment.
The assessment documents a steady decline in tree canopy coverage that if not addressed will have a devastating impact on the health and quality of life of Louisville. Louisville lost the equivalent of more than 54,000 trees per year constituting a 7% rate of change between 2004 and 2012. To compound this trend, Louisville will experience a significant canopy loss due to the exotic pest emerald ash borer (EAB). Ash trees comprise 10%- 17% of suburban and rural forests, meaning hundreds of thousands of ash trees will be lost in Louisville within the next five to ten years.
Given the historic trend of tree loss combined with the inevitable loss of ash trees from EAB, aggressive steps must be taken to address canopy levels, or Louisville will experience a further decrease in urban tree canopy (UTC) from 37% to as low as 21% over the next decades.
It is important to note two other findings in the assessment. First, the overall urban tree canopy calculation of 37% includes large parks that are not where the majority of Louisvillians live and work. If the 13,000 acres of tree canopy in eight of our largest parks are excluded, the coverage drops closer to 30%. Either way, the status quo is inadequate to provide the level of benefits that could and need to be realized from reducing storm water runoff, mitigating the heat island effect, and improving air quality.
Secondly, most opportunities to plant trees are on private property making this a challenge that cannot be tackled by the public sector alone. Based on canopy acres, publicly controlled land comprises 31% of all land, while privately owned land comprises 69%.
So while significant improvement to Louisville’s tree cover can be made by planting on public property, the greatest opportunities for substantial and long-term canopy gains will come through efforts on privately held lands.
Trees are a solution to many modern urban challenges. Trees provide a broad spectrum of environmental, economic, and social benefits, many of which are quantifiable at the community level. These include prevention of water pollution, less energy consumption, cleaner air, temperature moderation, reduced asthma in children and higher property values.
Overall, Louisville’s existing canopy provides its residents with almost $330 million in benefits annually. On top of the annual benefits, carbon stored over the lifetime of Louisville trees contributes an additional $230 million in benefits, bringing the collective benefit amount to $560 million.
Although Louisville has organizations involved in aspects of tree canopy improvement, none have the single focus of Louisville’s tree canopy. TreesLouisville will support these efforts while partnering with Metro Louisville to keep the overall expansion of our urban tree canopy primary.
The need for such an organization was first identified in the formation of the Louisville Metro Tree Advisory Commission. Created by Executive Order from Mayor Fisher over three years ago, one of the duties assigned to the Commission was to advise the Mayor on the establishment of a fund to raise and accept private donations for expanding the tree canopy. Research on what cities are doing in this regard as well as attendance by Henry Heuser, Jr., Co-Chair and other members of the Commission at the last three annual Partners in Community Forestry National Conferences confirmed what needed to be done here.
The common denominator in cities across the country that are successfully managing and increasing their urban tree canopies is the existence of an organization whose sole focus is on improving the status of the urban forest. A model for TreesLouisville is Trees Charlotte, started three years ago in response to the adoption of their community-wide canopy goal (50% coverage by 2050). There are many excellent examples in other cities such as Trees Pittsburgh, Tree Philly, Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, D.C.’s Casey Trees, and The Sacramento Tree Foundation. All are 501(c)3 locally-based private collaborations focused on creating and sustaining a robust tree canopy citywide.
The purpose of Trees Louisville is to build the necessary support and capacity in the broader community to reach a goal of tree canopy coverage of 45% over the next decades. Setting an urban tree canopy goal is critical along with having a Mayor who clearly recognizes the value of trees.
“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,” Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said. “Reversing this decline must be a true community initiative.”
Ultimately, it is only through a focused effort to garner major support from citizens, businesses and foundations that Louisville will be able to succeed in maintaining and expanding the tree canopy.
The Role of TreesLouisville
TreesLouisville will ensure that the public and private investment in increasing the community tree canopy is done strategically and collaboratively.
TreesLouisville will be a catalyst for broad civic engagement that will launch a public awareness/education campaign to promote preservation and expansion of the tree canopy as a community-wide value and convene interest groups to focus on canopy improvement.
TreesLouisville will provide a framework for supporting and coordinating existing tree planting organizations and efforts.