To confront Charlotte’s accelerating tree loss, here’s what the city — and you — can do

David T. Foster III/dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com
·3 min read

Three football fields of trees a day. 100,000 trees annually. That is the loss our “City of Trees” is experiencing, according to a 2018 study by the University of Vermont.

Why should this matter to Charlotteans?

Trees are truly miracles of nature. They clean our air, sequester carbon, provide much-needed shade, lower energy costs and reduce stormwater runoff. Studies have shown a clear link between trees and better mental health, higher property values and lower crime rates — all critical factors toward socially equitable communities. Even one well-planted and -tended tree can have a positive impact.

As an independent nonprofit, TreesCharlotte was founded 10 years ago with a dual-approach mission to address the city’s prominent canopy. We plant trees October through March, which gives young trees their best chance at survival. We also work to educate and empower citizens on the value of and care for trees. After all, a substantial citizenry can accomplish far more than a few.

From our inception, we formed a partnership with the City of Charlotte and both entities adopted an aspirational vision to increase the canopy coverage from (at the time) approximately 48% to exceed 50% canopy coverage by 2050. The current tree canopy stands roughly at 45% coverage.

The city is responsible for public land and plants trees in public spaces. Notably, public property represents less than l0% of all Charlotte land. While TreesCharlotte can plant on both private and public land such as parks, schools and neighborhoods, even churches and cemeteries, permissions or invitations are required — which is why Charlotteans are needed across our communities to offset future canopy loss.

The good news is that our small, yet mighty nonprofit has distributed over 43,000 trees in its short tenure. This is considered a significant amount in comparison to other cities with “Trees” organizations across the U.S.

The city of Charlotte has been integral to our reaching such high numbers. However, when that number is compared to the estimated 600,000 trees lost in roughly the same time frame, the reality of 50% by 2050 becomes unobtainable based on the current and projected growth rates of the city.

Charlotte is now the fifth fastest growing city — and the 15th largest city — in the country. It is arguably true that this boom, which includes anywhere from 60-100 people moving here each day, is in large part due to our green spaces and vibrant canopy.

The rampant population growth explains the surprising fact that 65% of our current tree loss is occurring in single-family residential areas. So how do we as a community respond?

It is incumbent upon all residents to focus on preserving the health of existing trees, as well as planting new trees to ensure our iconic urban forest remains intact for future generations. TreesCharlotte and the City of Charlotte cannot do this without you.

In the complex world we find ourselves in, the one thing we can agree on is the value trees play in our lives and across our beloved communities. Trees are nature’s greatest gift.

Charlotteans, we need you to help TreesCharlotte’s efforts either financially, through plantings, educational opportunities, or simply speaking for the trees. Please partner with TreesCharlotte to help Charlotte remain the City of Trees, so that it doesn’t become the City of Trees Lost.

Myers is executive director of TreesCharlotte .

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