Study: City tree canopy holding steady

Despite a surge of development over the past decade, a new study shows Charlotte’s prized tree canopy has remained steady, with 47 percent of the city under the shade of a tree.

The city believes that in 2002 the city’s canopy was at 48 percent, and it was at 46 percent in 2008. The City Council’s goal is to grow the tree canopy to 50 percent of Charlotte by 2050.

“It’s a bold but realistic goal,” said Tim Porter, the city’s urban forestry supervisor. “It will take a monumental effort.”

Council members heard Monday night about the results of the $20,000 study, conducted by the University of Vermont by analyzing aerial images. The city said it was the most detailed tree study Charlotte has conducted, and it will give officials a benchmark to judge how canopies compare in the future.

The city passed a tree ordinance in 2010 that’s designed to preserve trees in commercial developments. And in 2012, the city entered a partnership with the Foundation for the Carolinas to plant more trees.

The city spends about $250,000 a year on the partnership. In his first budget projection for the coming year, City Manager Ron Carlee said the city might expand the program by spending an additional $300,000 a year on trees.

In the current fiscal year, which ends in June, Trees Charlotte expects to plant 1,100 new trees. In the past two years, those trees have been planted in the city’s less affluent “crescent” – which is mostly west, north and east of uptown.

The city’s most dense tree canopy is in south Charlotte, in some of the most affluent parts of the city.

The study looked at areas of the city that had the most potential for planting new trees. Some of the city’s sparsest tree canopy is in southwest Charlotte near South Tryon Street; the city’s far-most southern neighborhoods near the South Carolina state line; near the campus of UNC Charlotte; and immediately north of uptown along Statesville Avenue.

Trees Charlotte is able to plant trees in government-owned rights ofway and on other government property, such as schools. In the past two years, for instance, the group has planted trees at Berewick Elementary, Waddell Language Academy, Reid Park Elementary and Walter G. Byers Elementary.

But Porter and Carlee said that for the city to meet its 2050 goal, private property owners will have to increase their plantings.

“We need people on private property to get involved,” Carlee said.

One challenge will be as the city’s population becomes more dense, there will be fewer places to plant trees.

During the presentation, council members asked city staff about the impact of a 2-year-old state law that gives billboard companies greater leeway to cut down trees and vegetation that blocks their signs.

City officials said they felt the impact was significant, with what officials believe were 4,000 trees cut down as a result of the law.