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ArlingtonNatural-resource plan asks for full accounting of tree canopy

Natural-resource plan asks for full accounting of tree canopy

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A more regularized accounting of the number, health and maintenance of Arlington’s trees and its canopy is one recommendation of the county government’s draft Forestry and Natural Resources Plan, currently out for public review.

The 101-page document was released Aug. 1, with community feedback sought through early October.

The proposal recommends taking a full accounting of Arlington’s tree canopy every three to five years, or more frequently as technology improves and costs come down.

“Regular canopy assessments can provide critical trend information over the life of the plan,” the report noted, asking county leaders to explore emerging technology, including drones and artificial intelligence, in an effort to better and more frequently calculate the number and canopy of Arlington’s trees, which today are estimated to total a little over 750,000.

Getting an accurate count of tree-canopy trends has been a contentious matter in the county. Organizations including the Arlington Tree Action Group (ATAG) and Arlington County Civic Federation have pushed for an update to the last tree-canopy study, conducted in 2016 with results released in 2017.

The 2016 study concluded that trees provide a canopy over about 41 percent of the county’s land surface, excluding federal facilities such as the Pentagon and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. That figure was up from 40 percent in a 2011 survey but down from 43 percent in 2008.

The results led to sparring between ATAG members (who fear development and county-government decision-making is pushing down the tree-canopy levels) and county leaders (who say the differences recorded in the three different studies are effectively within the margin of error and contend that when it comes to tree-preservation measures, their efforts are limited by state law).

Efforts by ATAG and the Civic Federation to encourage funding for a new study have met with what seems to be polite indifference from the County Board, which earlier this year agreed with staff’s position that a survey should be taken only after the new Forestry and Natural Resources Plan had been adopted.

The newly proposed plan also calls for publication of Web-based maps on the change in tree canopy over time, and regular reports on changes to the County Board and public.

In other sections of the draft proposal:

• The measure calls for the county government to do a better job in maintaining the trees it plants on public land. Often, critics contend, those trees are planted but then forgotten and left to their own survival devices, with the result being that dead trees need to be removed and new ones planted in their place.

• There is a call for conducting flora and fauna inventories on cycles of five to 10 years, enlisting the public to help support the work through volunteer effort.

• There is a request to conduct surveys on “high-impact organisms and existing/emerging pests,” ranging from deer down to invasive plants and bugs, an issue often currently addressed in a piecemeal fashion.

The Forestry and Natural Resources Plan draft will be out for review through Oct. 3, with several community events planned in the interim. For information, see the county government’s Website at https://arlingtonva.us.

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