The saga of an urban forest

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Cleveland was nicknamed The Forest City. The abundance of trees meant there was an inexpensive commodity readily available to a growing city. Fortunately, the early city fathers and philanthropists worked hard to replant trees on city streets and in the parks. Unfortunately, many of those legacy trees, if not already fallen to insects, diseases and pollutants, are nearing the end of their life expectancy.

A public tree inventory from the 1940s counted 220,000 street trees. Cleveland has lost significant canopy since then, with the current count now down to approximately 120,000 street trees. Tree canopy cover is now only 19%. Each year an estimated 97 acres of tree canopy is lost. At this rate, the canopy cover will drop to 14% by 2040.

It is time to rebuild the urban forest and reclaim the Forest City title. With the Cleveland Office of Sustainability (www.sustainablecleveland.org/.../the-cleveland-tree-plan) taking the lead, the City Planning Commission recently adopted the Cleveland Tree Plan. A Tree Coalition comprised of public and private stakeholders is working to achieve the vision of restoring the urban canopy by:

  • Collaborating effectively
  • Prioritizing trees in government, nonprofit, and the business sectors
  • Implementing best practices in urban forestry
  • Increasing tree canopy and the benefits it provides
  • Ensuring that benefits from trees are equitably distributed
  • Leveraging the economic advantages of urban trees
  • Engaging people to revitalize neighborhoods through community forestry.

Thankfully, there is a renewed enthusiasm for trees. “Tree Stewards” are sprouting throughout the city and county. Among others, organizations like the Thriving Communities Institute (http://www.wrlandconservancy.org/articles/tag/trees/) offers Tree Stewards training and Cuyahoga River Restoration (http://www.cuyahogariver.org/educationresources.html) offers printed materials and organizes workshops for tree experts and enthusiasts.

As for the Cuyahoga Soil & Water Conservation District, the staff with volunteer support continues to do our part. Since last fall, hundreds of trees were planted in the Euclid Creek and Rocky River watersheds. So far this year nearly 1000 trees and shrubs have been planted, as well as 4700 seedlings. The staff has participated in the Tree Stewards Training and actively promotes the benefits of trees and the need to protect and enhance this very basic green infrastructure.

So if you plan to plant a tree this April for Arbor Day, be sure to do it right. Practice the “Right Tree, Right Place, Right Purpose” strategy. Check out the Arbor Day Foundation website for tree planting how-to videos or call organizations, like ours for more information.

Blog Author: Janine Rybka, District Administrator

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