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Energy & Environment

Aging Trees And Development Threaten City's Tree Canopy Goal

Charlotte is known as a tree city, with lush neighborhoods and even tree-lined downtown streets, like College Street.
David Boraks
Charlotte is known as a tree city, with lush neighborhoods and even tree-lined downtown streets, like College Street.

Charlotte has a goal of having trees cover 50 percent of the city by 2050. But a report out this month says the city may have trouble hitting that goal, as trees disappear faster than they can be planted.

The Charlotte Council set the 50 percent goal in 2011, after an aerial survey showed the tree canopy was shrinking. Since then city officials, volunteers and property owners have planted thousands of trees to try and turn the tide.  

But there are signs that may not be enough. The tree canopy is currently about 47 percent. To raise that by 1 percentage point requires adding 100,000 trees. David Cable of the volunteer group TreesCharlotte discussed the problem on WFAE's Charlotte Talks Monday.    

“So as that number gets downward pressure on it we're gonna be losing trees, losing to 47-46-45 … and every percent we lose, we've got to plant another 100,000 to make up for it,” Cable said.  

That downward pressure he's talking about comes from two major trends: aging trees that fall or must be removed, and tree cutting to make way for new development.

The city can do only so much to control that. It controls trees along the street, which make up only about 10 percent of the city's tree canopy. Much of the rest are in private hands, said Erin Oliverio, Charlotte's Tree Canopy Manager.

“A lot of the trees on private property are just as old as the ones on the street that they will be losing, and if they're not replaced, if private homeowners are not replacing, it will make a drastic difference,” Oliverio said.

The new report on Charlotte's tree canopy, called the “Charlotte Urban Forest Master Plan 2017,” was presented to the City Council's environment committee this month. The council now will look at how to address the problem.  

The master plan calls for several “action steps”:

  • Expand the city’s partnership with TreesCharlotte
  • Increase publicity and education to get Charlotte’s neighborhoods and citizens more involved.
  • Update the city’s data on tree-canopy loss.
  • Consider updates to the city’s tree ordinance.
  • Develop a management plan for public trees.  
  • Seek corporate partnerships.


April 17, 2017, WFAE.org, "'City of Trees' At A Tipping Point," listen to the full Charlotte Talks on Charlotte’s tree canopy

April 2017, See the full "Charlotte Urban Forest Master Plan 2017" at charlottetreeplan.weebly.com

TreesCharlotte website, treescharlotte.org