By: Kyle Hudson
WASHINGTON – District of Columbia is home to an abundance of trees of different shapes, sizes, colors, and ages. However, 26,000 trees across Washington, D.C. have something in common.
Casey Trees is a non-profit organization located in Ward 5 of Washington, D.C. Casey Trees was founded in 2002 by Betty B. Casey with a mission to restore, enhance, and protect the city’s tree canopy which was severely damaged in the 1950s through the 1990s due to population decline which resulted in a smaller tax base and less funding for infrastructure including trees and open spaces.
Since its founding, Casey Trees has maintained their mission and prides themselves on planting trees, engaging the community, providing year-round education courses, and working with elected officials to care for existing trees and trees to come.
“It’s important to have trees planted across the city because of the benefits that they provide to everyday citizens,” said Cene Ketcham, an Extension Arborist at Casey Trees. The District’s tree canopy provides many environmental and social benefits, including reduced stormwater runoff and carbon footprint, improved air quality, additional wildlife habitat, savings on energy bills, increased property value and enhanced quality of life.
(Above: Casey Trees seeks to promote environmental sustainability in the District of Columbia.)
In 2011, former D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray announced a planning effort to make the city the greenest, healthiest, and most livable city in the nation titled Sustainable DC. With one of the major initiatives of Sustainable DC being to increase the city’s urban tree canopy, the District government partnered with Casey Trees and pledged to expand the citywide tree canopy from 35 percent to 40 percent. Since then, Casey Trees has planted nearly 26,000 trees throughout the city increasing the tree canopy coverage from 35 to 38 percent.
“We’ve done a pretty good job of keeping track of what we have and where it is. We have every tree georeferenced on a map in the GIS (Geographic Information System) database. If you want to tailor your outreach activities to a place where participation has been low and the canopy is low, you can look at the maps and get an idea of where your time will be best spent,” said Ketcham.
However, the community’s emotional and cultural connection to trees is what Ketcham said is really important. “Environmental education is extremely important so getting people to understand the importance of having a healthy, functioning urban ecosystem and giving them the ability to point at a tree that he or she planted and see it grow really fosters a sense of ownership and community empowerment,” said Ketchum.
Local residents praise Casey Trees’ work and admire their dedication to restoring the city.
Robyn Cohen, a native Washingtonian, is very appreciative of the work that Casey Trees has done. “Growing up not too far from Rock Creek Park, I have always admired both the beauty and complexity of nature and the beauty of my city. So when I see the work that Casey Trees is doing in the community it always warms my heart,” said Cohen. In fact, Cohen has even signed her children up for Casey Trees educational courses.
Another D.C. native, Jack Ewart, worked as a mentee with Casey Trees during his senior year of high school in 2015. Currently a Junior, Environmental Studies major at Temple University, Ewart credits Casey Trees for feeding his interest in the environment which has carried into his college career.
“Their work with greenery and D.C. is something that has always interested me and they helped immensely with my high school senior project which was a presentation on the importance of urban forestry,” said Ewart. Ewart, who plans to continue working with the environment after college hoped there would be a place for him at Casey Trees after graduation.
Casey Trees offers community service opportunities throughout the year and signing up is as easy as going to their website.