Cleveland is Not Even Close to Reversing Significant Losses to Tree Canopy in Recent Years


  • Sam Allard / Scene
Despite Cleveland's plan to dramatically increase the tree canopy by 2040, the city has steadily moved in the wrong direction in recent years, continuing a downward trend that began in the middle of the 20th century. A new progress report on the Cleveland Tree plan, released Tuesday, found that the city lost more than five percent of its tree cover between 2011 and 2017.

Using data from the 2019 Cuyahoga County Tree Canopy Assessment, the report, which was prepared by the Davey Resource Group in collaboration with Holden Forests & Gardens, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress and the Cleveland Tree Coalition, reported that Cleveland has been unable to reverse its current trajectory. And if the losses continue, the city will drop to only 14.8% tree canopy in 2040, far below its goal of 30% and significantly below peer cities in the region.  

While the Cleveland Tree Coalition itself has grown from five to 40 members since the establishment of the Cleveland Tree Plan in 2015, the coalition has made only minor progress related to its core mission.

When the city's tree planting goals were established, it was losing about 6,400 trees per year to various causes. Reversing the trend was deemed crucial and required planting and preserving twice as many trees as were lost per year. Far more would have been preferable.

"To kick-start the reverse the trend effort," the report stated, "a goal to plant 50,000 trees by 2020 was established."

But in 2018 and 2019, members of the Cleveland Tree Coalition planted or gave away only 8,382 trees in total, far below even the baseline number required to reverse the loss of canopy.

"The CTC should identify the limitations and challenges that led to this planting goal not being met," the progress report advised, "and develop solutions for how to move forward and help reverse the canopy loss trend."

The report reiterates what city officials already know: Tree canopy provides an array of benefits to Cleveland residents, including increased property values, increased air quality, energy savings and reduction of storm water runoff. The loss of canopy from 2011-2017 resulted in the loss of $3.1 million "cumulative tree benefits" for city residents.

There is now a good deal of urgency in the progress report, as the tree-planting goals are getting further and further out of reach. As it stands, for Cleveland to hit its target by 2040, residents and businesses will have to plant roughly 28,000 trees per year, far more than they have in the past. Funding at the county level for tree planning and planting will gradually lead to more trees in the region as well, but only a handful of those grants are for Cleveland neighborhoods. 

The loss of canopy is also an equity issue, as losses tend to be more severe in low-income census tracts. Downtown, Goodrich-Kirtland Park, and Central are among the neighborhoods with the lowest tree coverage, (excluding non-residential areas like Hopkins and the Industrial Valley).

The fall planting season is fast approaching, and there's no time like the present to begin counteracting decades of canopy loss. The Cleveland Tree Coalition members invite interested property owners to make a commitment to the city's canopy goals. They can fill out this form to request a tree on their tree lawn or elsewhere on their property.

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