Tree canopy survey will help create a tree culture

Residents could get a better understanding of how many trees grow in Jacksonville if the City Council approves the funding for a comprehensive survey of the tree canopy.

Last month the city Environmental Protection Board approved a $103,000 proposal from Greenscape and Public Trust Environmental Legal Institute of Florida for a citywide tree survey. The measure must be approved by the City Council, which could take three or four months.

“The biggest reason to do this is that it creates a baseline,” said John November, executive director of Public Trust. “It gives us data about where trees are and what could be planted. This will help the city make sound strategic decisions about where to plant trees that will have the greatest impact.”

Inventories of trees in neighborhoods and parks have been done in the past. For instance, Groundwork and the University of North Florida recently inventoried trees in Springfield and Eastside as part of the Tree Rx urban forestry plan.

The proposed survey, by Plan-It Geo, is different because it is comprehensive and will use geospatial technology that will analyze data from an aerial perspective, November said. It would take about a month to complete.

The survey data would be available to the city and to organizations like Riverside Avondale Preservation for use in making strategic decisions about where to plant trees.

Strategic planting of trees is a key urban planning tool because trees increase the economic value of property and reduce energy use, air pollution and stormwater runoff.

The Riverside Avondale Zoning Overlay has good protections for trees and landscaping, and property owners are encouraged to plant trees, said Nancy Powell, a RAP board member and chair of the Zoning Committee.

“Our existing mature tree canopy is one of the things that attracts people to our neighborhood,” Powell said.

One of the challenges facing Riverside Avondale is that many of its trees are reaching the end of their natural life and have to be removed, she said.

For instance, the water oaks that were given away to homeowners to celebrate the end of World War II only live 50 to 60 years and are now dying, Powell said. And, Boone Park is losing some of its trees.

Trees also have been lost in storms, or because homeowners have removed them to avoid storm damage, Powell said.

Local groups protect canopy

Periodically, several groups have made efforts to build the tree canopy.

Greenscape has planted over 350,000 trees since 1975 and sponsors the annual flowering tree sale each spring. This year it is hosting a daylong Tree Festival Saturday, April 1 at Metropolitan Park, 1410 Gator Bowl Blvd., where it will give away 5,000 trees.

The local Sierra Club chapter is making the restoration of the tree canopy one of its priorities with a community education effort.

Greenscape and Scenic Jacksonville launched the JaxDigsTrees initiative in 2015 to encourage residents to plant trees.

The yearlong initiative was a celebration of the 15th anniversary of the passage of the amendment to the city charter to preserve and protect trees. Developers are required to protect certain trees, replace those they cut down or pay into a city tree mitigation fund.

Money from the fund can be used to plant trees around the city, such as the initiative to plant native trees at all public schools.

In 2015 Public Trust filed a complaint against the city for failing to enforce the amendment and a city tree ordinance.

November said the tree survey would help the city make good use of the $10 million in the fund.

Joe Anderson, forester for JEA, applauds any effort to protect and grow the tree canopy because trees are an important part of the city infrastructure, helping reduce energy consumption and stormwater runoff.

A mature shade tree on the south side of a house in Jacksonville can reduce energy consumption by as much as 20 percent, Anderson said. And trees planted in business districts can reduce heat, pollution and stormwater runoff.

Powell said the RAP zoning overlay re-quires trees around businesses. For instance, tree islands are required in areas with on-street parking, but some businesses are taking out the right-of-way to provide more parking, and that reduces space for trees.

Trees are in the economic interest of businesses, too. Studies have shown that trees planted around stores attract custom-
ers and give them shady places to park.

Powell said Riverside Presbyterian Church and the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens made good use of trees in their parking lots.

Rain that falls on pavement has nowhere to go but into drainage sewers, and in Riverside the street sewers lead straight to the river.

But the leaves of a tree slow down rain as it falls, reducing flooding, and the roots help the soil absorb the rain and slow down its flow. Even a tree island in a parking lot or median can soak up some of the stormwater.

“If you think about a tree, it’s a natural pump with pipes and fibers,” Anderson said. “The roots will reach into the available space, find the water, send it up through the trunk and branches and out the leaves into the air. Without that pump, the water would be lost.

“You look at clouds, that’s water vapor and a lot of it comes from trees,” Anderson said. “A mature oak can release 80 gallons of water a day.”

In areas of Riverside that are prone to flooding, improving drainage is part of the answer, Anderson said. Planting more trees is the other part.

November said he hopes the information from the tree survey will help people think differently about the canopy.

“This will help us create a tree culture in Jacksonville,” November said. “It will help lead the way in revolutionizing the way people see trees in the community, to take ownership and to help the city grow to the next level.

“We already have a lot of success, we have a lot of issues, and we have a lot of potential, but we need the community to step up.”

The value of a tree

Calculate how much a tree saves you using the National Tree Benefit Calculator: You’ll need to know the species and its diameter. To see how much pollution a tree can process, check out

By Lilla Ross
Resident Community News

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