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Cleveland looks to rekindle commission to grow and maintain its tree canopy

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Posted at 11:20 AM, Jun 06, 2022

CLEVELAND — Cleveland’s tree canopy has been on the decline for decades, but city officials are looking to rekindle its long-defunct tree commission to cut to the root of the problem.

Mayor Justin Bibb looking to establish the Urban Forestry Commission, a 15-member commission to oversee the protection of the city’s tree cover. The commission will make recommendations to the mayor and city council on the best ways to grow and maintain the tree canopy.

Overall, Cleveland averages about 18% tree cover, but city officials would like to see that number closer to 40%.

“Downtown, for example, has only 4% tree cover where a neighborhood like West Park has 25% tree cover,” said Fran DiDonato, senior strategist of sustainability for the city of Cleveland. “For comparison, Cincinnati's at 38%, and we lose 97 acres of trees every year. And so, if we don't do anything, we'll be at about 14% in 2040.”

Trees provide several economic, health and community benefits, like reducing greenhouse gases, improving water quality, and naturally cooling off homes.

“If you plant a tree right by your air conditioner, you can make your air conditioner run 10% more efficiently,” DiDonato said. With our canopy going down every year, we lose about $3.1 million in benefits every year.”

The commission is also seeking money for the city’s tree preservation fund, through either donations or fines. Currently, there are several tree-related laws that aren’t being enforced, such as requiring developers to incorporate tree planting as part of their projects.

“We're hoping by the end of the year we'll have the commission instated and getting to work, looking at the policies and making sure that we streamline urban forestry into all the different things that we do across the board,” DiDonato said.

In addition to restoring the dwindling canopy, planting trees could also have a direct impact on residents’ finances.

“Cleveland is one of the most energy burdened cities in the country. That means that people are paying over 6% of their income to utilities,” DiDonato said. “And so, we know there are some neighborhoods where people are paying 25% of their income to utilities.”

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