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More Trees? If Approved, A New City Plan Would Make Planting & Conserving Dallas Trees A Priority

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Keren Carrión
/
KERA News
The City of Dallas skyline is seen off at a distance from a park.

The city is considering its first-ever plan that focuses on increasing tree canopy, plus caring for and preserving existing trees in the area.

The cooling shade that comes from a good tree may become more plentiful in Dallas if a new proposal is approved by the city.

During an Environment and Sustainability Committee Meeting on Monday, Texas Trees Foundation (TTF), a nonprofit that focuses on urban forestry, put forth an Urban Forest Master Plan (UFMP) for the City of Dallas.

Urban forestry is the management of trees and forest resources in and around urban community ecosystems. If approved, this would be the city’s first-ever plan that focuses on increasing tree canopy and implementing care preservation to existing trees in the area.

“We lost a pretty good chunk of our tree canopy in North central Dallas,” said Susan Alvarez, assistant director at the Office of Environmental Quality and Sustainability, referring to the monster tornado that hit Dallas in 2019. “This event highlighted the desire to be able to work more proactively toward updating our plans.”

As of 2019, Dallas has about 14.7 million trees, according to TTF. Close to 50% of those trees are in The Great Trinity Forest. The plan’s goal is for tree canopy to make up 37% of the city by 2040. It’s currently at 32%.

TTF believes strongly that trees benefit the social, economic, and environmental health of people who live around them.

“Some areas of the city have a lot of large trees. Some don’t. And so as an equity issue I would think you would want to probably focus your replanting efforts in those neighborhoods that could use additional shade,” said Alvarez.

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Keren Carrión
Klyde Warren Park captured during the summer of 2020.

They hope the city will consider approving their “research-based” efforts and use them to educate and mobilize the public to become involved in conserving and protecting trees around them.

During the committee meeting, Zach Wirtz, the Urban Forestry Manager at TTF, asked council members to picture his walk through his neighborhood in Deep Ellum.

“We regularly go on walks to get out and exercise, when we leave our block the canopy is lush and overhangs the sidewalks, but then we hit sections of roads like this — sun blasting down, no shade,” he said. “Our walk exemplifies a typical situation in Dallas, far too little trees and far too little shade.”

Examples of urban forests include urban parks, street trees, landscaped boulevards, gardens, greenways, river corridors, wetlands and nature preserves. They’re basically any greenery, woody or vegetation, in urban and suburban settings.

Wirtz said trees can help regulate increasing temperatures in Dallas and thus improve the quality of life for some of the more vulnerable populations in the city.

“Trees offer opportunities,” said Wirtz. “Urban forests enhance economic developments by attracting new business and retaining existing ones. The trees in Dallas provide nearly $240 million of benefits every year.”

The Urban Forest Master Plan's three biggest recommendations include: taking an inventory of all trees that will help determine what areas of the city have low canopy cover, forming a group focused on urban forestry, and developing a storm response/recovery plan that will help conserve trees when natural disasters happen.

Currently the city of Dallas has a number of “tree-related” policies like the National Environmental Protection Act, Texas Park & Wildlife Ordinance and Dallas Article X. Many of them have been in the books since the 1980s with a mission and focus on “protection and preservation of trees.”

Council member Chad West has concerns about equity in tree planting. He proposed expanding Article X, an existing policy, “to allow the city’s reforestation fund to be used to put trees into private homes with a priority system that looks at equity and looking at low income areas.”

West and council member Jennifer Gates asked for time to review the existing tree-related policies and how that money is currently being spent.

Other council members, like Tennell Atkins, raised some concerns about how changing the landscape might cause potential development impacts such as erosion. Atkins said this was the first time he saw the UFMP and would like to read it in its entirety before potentially approving it.

Alvarez doesn’t want the council to sit on the plan and hopes they decide immediately “as soon as practical resources give constraint. In my opinion we would do as much as we can with the resources we have available right now.”

If approved, this plan would prioritize planting trees in parts of the city where there isn't as much tree cover. The council committee is still reviewing the plan. They want more information about how the city's tree programs are funded before taking a vote.

Got a tip? Alejandra Martinez is a Report For America corps member and writes about the economic impact of COVID-19 on marginalized communities for KERA News. Email Alejandra at amartinez@kera.org. You can follow Alejandra on Twitter @alereports.

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