Arlington leaders may take their next crack at guesstimating the number of trees in the county – a topic not without political as well as environmental ramifications – early in 2023, if all goes according to plan.
That’s the timeline laid out by county parks director Jane Rudolph under questioning from County Board members during a recent work session.
Rudolph told board members she wanted to first get an update to the government’s Forestry and Natural Resources Plan approved, and then “the tree study could be the first” to be undertaken after its adoption.
“We want to do it immediately after that,” Rudolph said, estimating the cost at $100,000 to $150,000 for these types of efforts.
The Arlington government last conducted a tree inventory in 2016, reporting the findings in 2017. The roughly 750,000 trees in the county’s 26 square miles covered about 41 percent of the county’s ground area, the study concluded – up from 40 percent in a 2011 survey but down from 43 percent in 2008.
(Percentages do not include Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport or Department of Defense property, including the Pentagon. If those areas were included, the tree-canopy coverage would be slightly lower – it’s unwise to plant trees on an active runway, after all.)
That 2017 survey’s conclusions led to more than a year of back-and-forth between tree advocates, led by the Arlington Tree Action Group (ATAG), and some County Board members over what the data actually said, and what the county government should be doing to address tree-canopy issues in the community. Both sides got testy at times, and ATAG continues to press the issue.
Last spring, the Arlington County Civic Federation joined the fray, calling on the county government to “immediately” move forward on a new study of tree canopy. Such an effort could take just two to three months and cost just $20,000 to $40,000, suggested the Civic Federation’s resolution, which passed on a vote of 85 in favor, five against and eight abstaining.
At the recent budget hearing, Park and Recreation Commission representative David Howell urged funding for a new tree study, sooner rather than later.
“We really need to kick it up a notch,” he said of efforts, while pointing to a worrisome decline of oaks in the community.
“Without trees as the anchor, the ecosystem in most of our county already is under duress,” Howell said.