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Study: Charlotte Had Significant Tree Canopy Loss Between 2012 And 2018

Flickr/Erik Cleves Kristensen

A new study says Charlotte’s tree canopy declined significantly between 2012 and 2018, with residential development the biggest cause of widespread tree loss in the city.

The study's findings showed even though trees have been planted, Charlotte lost 7,669 net acres of tree canopy, bringing the canopy to 45% of the city in 2018, compared to 49% in 2012. The city lost 8% of its tree canopy in that period, while gaining 4% from new trees. UNC Charlotte’s Urban Institute estimates the loss is equal to the city losing three football fields of tree canopy every day.

The analysis of the 2018 canopy was done by the University of Vermont and funded by TreesCharlotte, a public-private nonprofit with the city of Charlotte. Chuck Cole is TreesCharlotte's executive director. He said tree planting efforts have helped, but development continues to cost the city trees.

"I’m very happy that we actually had a 4% increase. That’s pretty monumental, I mean that’s good," Cole said. "At least what we’re doing is having an impact. It’s just that right now, we’re not able to catch up with what development does. You know we have to plant for the growth, and we have to plant for the loss."

The majority of the city’s tree canopy loss happened on private residential property. All areas of the city saw loss, particularly west Charlotte. Cole said because the data lags a few years, the city’s canopy is likely even lower now. The city of Charlotte has a tree canopy goal of 50% by 2050. It says it will release a plan this yearwith updated policies to preserve and grow the tree canopy.

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Michael Falero is a radio reporter, currently covering voting and the 2020 election. He previously covered environment and energy for WFAE. Before joining WFAE in 2019, Michael worked as a producer for a number of local news podcasts based in Charlotte and Boston. He's a graduate of the Transom Story Workshop intensive on Cape Cod and UNC Chapel Hill.