Trees are vital to a healthy environment and provide services that improve air quality, water quality, wildlife habitat, stream buffers, and our quality of life. Among other services, trees produce oxygen; remove pollutants from the air and from water runoff; reduce the production of harmful ground level ozone; reduce global warming; anchor our soil and stabilize our stream banks; shade and cool our homes, businesses, and natural areas; increase our property values; reduce flooding and stream scouring; and increase the amount of water in our lakes and streams in times of drought.
Notwithstanding the value and importance of trees, we continue lose trees and open space at a dramatic rate. According to the 2008 tree canopy study of Mecklenburg County completed by American Forests, Inc., between 1985 and 2008 we lost 33% of tree canopy, 2.8% of our open space, and increased our urban/impervious area (roads, parking lots, buildings) by 60%. Lost air quality benefits resulting from this land cover change – $8,739,909.00 annually. Increased costs to manage storm water resulting from this change – $50,093,674.00.
Unfortunately, more recent tree canopy analyses, published in 2014 and 2018, which were commissioned by Charlotte and completed by the University of Vermont, working with local non-profit TreesCharlotte, reveal further declines in Charlotte’s tree canopy and open space percentages. The 2018 analysis revealed that the city’s canopy percentage had fallen to 45%.
Putting such loss in more relatable terms, according to TreesCharlotte, over the past several years Charlotte has been losing more than 100,000 trees annually. A 2022 article from the UNC Urban Institute indicates that the city is losing three football fields worth of trees per day due to development.