Tree Canopy Loss Report

Seattle lost 255 acres of tree canopy between 2016 and 2021, according to a recently-released city assessment. Seattle’s canopy cover in 2021 was 28.1%, down from 28.6% in 2016. This means the city is actually further away from its goal of reaching 30% tree cover by 2037.
The study further noted that the canopy loss has not happened equitably, with neighborhoods most impacted by social injustice losing more than the citywide average. The report stressed that tree canopy cover plays a critical role in climate preparedness by lowering temperatures and reducing heat island effects. At the neighborhood scale, a 13% increase in tree canopy is associated with a .5-degree reduction in temperature, according to the report.
The areas seeing the most tree loss were parks and neighborhoods, the report found. Parks Natural areas contain 14% of the city tree canopy and saw a relative loss of 5.1%, which may be due to aging deciduous trees coming down naturally or being replaced by evergreen trees. Neighborhood Residential areas saw a lower relative loss of 1.2% – but this is a significant number since residential land comprises 47% of the city’s canopy. Tree loss here is likely due to a combination of development and other reasons.
In response to the study, Mayor Bruce Harrell issued an executive order that proposed, among other things, replacing every healthy, site-appropriate tree removed from city property with a minimum of three trees. The order also creates a fund to target new tree plantings in areas with low tree cover, especially historically underserved communities, and would expand which kinds of trees are regulated.
The Seattle Times in an editorial wrote that Harrell’s proposals are a good start and urged the City Council to now engage in a “focused effort and a dedication to come down on the side of trees in the perennial housing versus the environment debate [or] the city will not live up to its own values. Economically disadvantaged neighborhoods will pay the steepest price.”
City officials also recently signed a pledge to work together with tribal nations and community organizations across the state to expand tree canopy in cities. The pledge doubles down on Seattle’s commitment to plant and grow 8,000 trees on public and private properties and an additional 40,000 seedlings in natural areas in the next five years, according to a Seattle Times news article.
By JoAnn Kelly

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