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Cuyahoga County Is Losing Tree Cover, And Fast

Mark Urycki

The tree canopy in Cuyahoga County shrank by more than 6% in six years, according to a new report.

The Cuyahoga County Urban Tree Canopy Assessment Update shows 34.7% of the county was covered by trees in 2017, compared to 37% in 2011. The U.S average is 39%.

Cuyahoga County’s report determines how much of county land is covered by leaves, branches and stems of trees.

The 6% decline equals a loss of about 6,600 acres of tree canopy, said Sandra Albro, co-chair of the Cleveland Tree Coalition. And with that drop comes a loss of trees’ ecological benefits.

“Trees help alleviate heating and cooling costs. They help filter air and stormwater,” Albro said. “They add value to our homes and businesses.”

According to the assessment, Lakewood lost the most tree canopy in Cuyahoga County, with a 19% drop. Cleveland Heights lost 13%, Pepper Pike lost 12% and several other communities each lost 11%. In terms of neighborhoods, Detroit Shoreway and Edgewood each lost 14% of their tree canopies.

Only two area communities have seen gains in tree cover since 2011: Euclid, with a 2.6% increase and Cuyahoga Heights with 2.5%.

Albro said the Tree Coalition was excited by the combined commitments of $15 million from Cuyahoga County and the City of Cleveland to plant more trees. The county says there are 370,000 acres available for possible tree canopy development and redevelopment.

“Showing that our government is all-in on trees, we hope will help spur action in the private sector,” Albro said.

Poorer communities already suffer from low tree canopy, Albro says, but this update shows the problem is moving outward as well.

“We saw a lot of loss of tree canopy in the suburbs,” Albro said. “A lot of that could probably be due to development but we also had [invasive species] emerald ash borer. A lot of our trees are pretty old at this point.”

An NPR investigation found that low-income areas in dozens of major U.S. cities are more likely to have hotter temperatures than wealthier areas, and a lack of trees is a central culprit.

The County Planning Commission lacks detailed information about why the canopy is shrinking and there is no breakdown of how much tree cover was lost to specific causes such as invasive speciesstorms or the age, size and condition of the trees.

Data in the 2019 report is from 2017 and Albro said she hopes the next study, in 5-10 years, will show progress from recently planted trees and the upcoming efforts of the county and Cleveland.

It’s important for homeowners to take care of their trees and individual actions of private residents can amount to large losses in tree canopy, Albro said.

“Large trees do more in terms of benefits than small new trees do,” she said. “The second best thing to do is plant more trees. You can also talk to your council people and your local governments about introducing ordinances or strengthening ordinances.”