October 8 – City of Trees

Today’s factismal: Washington DC has lost nearly one third of its trees since 1950.

What with all of the news coverage of the various disfunctions, malfunctions, and malefactions in our nation’s capitol, you might think that there wasn’t any room for more. Unfortunately, you’d be wrong. There is another problem in Washington, DC, and it is one that you can do something about! But to understand it, we have to set our “wayback machine” to 1790 when George Washington and his fellow Founding Fathers decided to place the capitol on land donated by Virginia and Maryland.

As part of the planning for the city, Washington decided that there should be impressive buildings and even more impressive tree-lined boulevards and tree-filled parks. Falsehoods about cherry trees aside, Washington was an ardent arborist who enjoyed trying to get new and different types of trees to grow. (Franklin beats him on that score, though – Franklin actually has a species of tree named after him!) And so he worked with L’Enfant (the architect of the city) to ensure that there were plenty of places to put trees. Their plan worked so well that DC was known as “the city of trees” during the 1800s.

The Washington Monument, peeking out from the cherry trees

The Washington Monument, peeking out from the cherry trees

But as Washington became more a place to live and less a place to just work, the trees started getting crowded out by new buildings and new roads. Throughout the last century places that had harbored arbors turned into apartment complexes and shopping malls. As a result, the amount of DC covered by a tree canopy declined from 50% in 1950 to less than 35% in 2011; one-third of the trees and all of the animals and other plants that they harbored had gone!

That inspired one citizen scientist to start a project to replant DC and restore it to its former green glory. She began the eponymous Casey Trees, a citizen science project that helps locals and visitors alike take part in the effort. To learn more, head over to their website:

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