Guest Host: Paul Brown

DC was once nicknamed the “City of Trees,” and it’s still true today, with nearly forty percent of the city covered by tree canopy. And like the people who populate our region, the 350 species of trees found here include both natives and transplants from all over the world. We’ll find out the best places to enjoy our green bounty, and talk to the department responsible for caring for all those trees. We’ll also talk to a local food pantry planting an urban orchard that will soon provide 40,000 pounds of fresh fruit.


  • Melanie Choukas-Bradley Author, "City of Trees: The Complete Field Guide to the Trees of Washington, DC, Third Edition; Naturalist instructor, Natural History Field Studies Program of Graduate School USA and the Audubon Naturalist Society; Nature tour leader, US Botanic Garden, Audubon Naturalist Society, Casey Trees and the Nature Conservancy.
  • John Thomas Associate Director of Urban Forestry, D-C Department of Transportation
  • Sharon Feuer Gruber Nutrition consultant, Bread for the City


  • 13:06:42

    MR. PAUL BROWNFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your community with the world. I'm Paul Brown sitting in for Kojo from NPR News today. And you can join us by calling 1-800-433-8850. Washington D.C. was historically known as the city of trees and it's still true today. Nearly 40 percent of the city is covered by tree canopy, making it one of the greenest urban areas in the country. And like the people who live here, the 350 species in our region include both native trees and transplants from all over the world.

  • 13:07:24

    MR. PAUL BROWNYou can enjoy our region's green bounty just about anywhere, whether you're sitting in a tree-shaded outdoor café, and there are more and more of those these days, or strolling through one of the many public gardens, taking a short trip to a regional park. You can even volunteer in an urban orchard that will soon supply fresh fruit to a local food pantry. We'll find out about that too.

  • 13:07:45

    MR. PAUL BROWNAnd joining us to discuss trees and their care and what they do for us and what we can do for them, Melanie Choukas-Bradley is a naturalist and the author of "City of Trees: The Complete Field Guide to the Trees of Washington, D.C." It's the third edition along with two books on Sugarloaf Mountain. Melanie, thank you for coming in.

  • 13:08:04

    MS. MELANIE CHOUKAS-BRADLEYThank you so much, Paul. It's great to be here.

  • 13:08:06

    BROWNAlso we have with us John Thomas. He's the associate director of Urban Forestry Administration for the District of Columbia. John, thanks for being with us.

  • 13:08:14

    MR. JOHN THOMASThank you, Paul. It's great to be here.

  • 13:08:15

    BROWNAnd your department manages the 140,000 some odd street trees across the District of Columbia. We'll also be talking this hour with Sharon Feuer Gruber of -- she's a nutrition consultant with Bread for the City. And that is a nonprofit that provides services including food, clothing, medical care, legal and social services to vulnerable D.C. residents. And, Sharon, thanks for coming in and being with us.

  • 13:08:42


  • 13:08:42

    BROWNGlad to have you here. So, Melanie, let's start with you. You know, many people don't know this but in some circles D.C. has long been known as the City of Trees. I've never heard it called that but I do know that when I'm out walking in D.C. I love the tree canopy. You can choose sun or shade on almost any block in D.C. There's an incredible variety of trees in the city. And I thought maybe you could tell us how that came to be because I've lived in a number of cities and quite a few small towns over the years. And the fact of the matter is that many places I've been simply don't have the number and the variety of interesting trees that D.C. has.

  • 13:09:30

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYSo true, so true.

  • 13:09:30

    BROWNSo how do we get to where we are?

  • 13:09:33

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYWell, it's actually a wonderful story. We started out with an incredibly diverse selection of trees here natively. We're on the border of the coastal plain and the piedmont and mountains and also kind of on the border between the north and south. So we have an incredibly rich botanical diversity in this area. And then the founding of our city started with a real tree lover, George Washington, who hired Pierre L'Enfant to design the city. And L'Enfant was European born and he had an intimate knowledge of the capitols of Europe with their tree-lined streets.

  • 13:10:11

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYAnd so Washington and L'Enfant, right from the beginning planned tree-lined streets and green spaces in our city. And then it's a story that continues into today. There are tree-loving leaders of the city throughout time. And today John Thomas is here. He's going to talk about the street trees today. The city has just had incredible arboreal history. It's a really fascinating story. And anywhere you go you see a green canopy.

  • 13:10:42

    BROWNBut it really -- it wasn't that way always.

  • 13:10:45

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYNo, it wasn't. It's been kind of an up and down situation. The 19th century was kind of a rough time in Washington. A lot of trees were cut down. But then in the 1870s we had a governor named Alexander Shepherd -- he's usually referred to as Boss Shepherd. And he planted...

  • 13:11:02

    BROWNYeah, he was the last governor of D.C. before we went to mayors.

  • 13:11:04

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYHe was, he was. He planted 60,000 trees. He actually ran the city into debt. But he turned things around in the 19th century and from then on citizens really got involved in the care of trees, which is still so important today. And we've had -- you know, we've had some more up and downs but today things are looking really, really bright.

  • 13:11:27

    BROWNDid he run the city into debt partly with the tree-planting program?

  • 13:11:30

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYYes, he did. Yes, he did.

  • 13:11:31

    BROWNIt was that important to him.

  • 13:11:33

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYYes, it was indeed, indeed.

  • 13:11:34

    BROWNHe wanted to see this.

  • 13:11:36

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYYes, it was.

  • 13:11:36

    BROWNSo he was willing to do it. Would you be willing to help take care of trees in your neighborhoods? Where's your favorite place to get out in nature in our region? We want to hear from you and we'd love to get your phone call at 1-800-433-8850. You can also email us at You can also get in touch by way of Facebook or you can Tweet us at kojoshow. I'm Paul Brown on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" and we've got a couple of calls coming in. We want to hear from you.

  • 13:12:08

    BROWNOur region, Melanie, is one of the greenest in the country. It's often the first thing people notice when they come to visit. The trees are also very diverse and when you talk about the planting plan that Alexander R. Shepherd got going in the 1870s, was he and were the people helping him specifically looking for diversity?

  • 13:12:34

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYI think they were looking for what worked. And it was kind of an experiment in urban civil culture. Because some of the trees they planted such as poplars were known as surface rooters. They rooted up the sidewalks. Some of the trees like Silver Maples, which grow very well along the Potomac River or along Rock Creek where they have a lot of moisture, they didn't work so well as city trees.

  • 13:12:56

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYSo I'm not sure that they were going for diversity but we had people moving here from all over the world. And one of the things they did was they brought their trees with them. Their trees were important to them and they wanted to see them blooming here. And we have a very welcoming climate in Washington. We can support trees from Africa, from Europe, Asia. There are giant sequoias on the Capitol grounds. It's a climate that can support all different kinds of trees.

  • 13:13:24

    BROWNSo we have a lot of...

  • 13:13:24

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYSo this international tree community came from a real desire on the part of the people living here to bring their familiar trees with them.

  • 13:13:32

    BROWNDid they bring pests?

  • 13:13:33

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYYes, they did. And that is a problem that perhaps John Thomas would be able to address better than I could. But we've had some serious pests that have threatened our trees. The chestnut blight of the 20th century and Dutch elm disease of course, although we have -- still have many beautiful elms in Washington that are extremely well cared for by the national park service and by the city. And then we have some new pests too.

  • 13:14:02

    BROWNJohn Thomas, can you tell us about the good, the bad and the ugly as you look at administering the protection of our trees?

  • 13:14:10

    THOMASYeah, I think Melanie hit it on the head. The two biggest ones that have stood out for a long period of time are the chestnut blight and Dutch elm disease. And we still battle Dutch elm disease every day. But we still have a decent selection of good healthy American Elms.

  • 13:14:24

    BROWNHow do you battle it?

  • 13:14:26

    THOMASFrom what we can -- basically at this point what we understand is getting -- once the tree has the disease and once it reaches a threshold of roughly 5 to 10 percent, getting it out of the system and reducing the disease load or the amount of disease that's out there is the quickest and best defense of keeping it away from the healthy trees. But we also do inject healthy trees so that it does stop the disease from -- if it does get it it has kind of a layer of protection.

  • 13:14:52

    BROWNWhat are the signs of Dutch Elm?

  • 13:14:54

    THOMASIt's very difficult to -- when you inspect an elm to kind of determine whether it's Dutch elm disease because the signs are typically flagging of a leaf, a leaf that's kind of downturned or looking like it's drought. And typically this happens sometime in June and July, which we are in a heavy drought typically at that time of the year. So it's hard to decide whether that's just reacting to the hot weather and the drought or it's actually got Dutch elm disease. And many times we've gotten it right where we've hesitated and the next spring that tree leafs out and there's no problem with it.

  • 13:15:24

    THOMASSo it's -- you can do tests. A lot of times it's hard just 'cause the tree's so big you can't really get up there to see what's going on as well.

  • 13:15:32

    BROWNIs Dutch elm disease always fatal or is it possible to help the tree recover?

  • 13:15:37

    THOMASNo, it can live with it for a while. But once it does get it and it starts to get active throughout the tree it can really go down quickly. And it -- in the one challenge we've had is it can get passed from tree to tree through root grafting in elms that were planted tree after tree after tree along these streets. And once one tree got it, the next tree got it and the next tree got it. So it was a difficult process to manage.

  • 13:16:03

    BROWNLet's go to the phones for a moment here. Santiago in Northwest D.C., you are on the air.

  • 13:16:08

    SANTIAGOThank you. I would like to hear the panelists speak on the impact and ways to manage the potential impact that the rewriting of the zoning regulations that is underway and will be presented this winter to the office of zoning, what impact that will have on our wonderful trees and canopies. I volunteer for the Rock Creek Conservancy and also for Neighbors for Neighborhoods.

  • 13:16:35

    SANTIAGOAnd we don't really have all the information from the office of planning. But it looks like what they're proposing is to reduce the setbacks on housing from the current 8' to 5' and allowing greater lot coverage of houses as well as increasing population density by allowing rental units in the backyard and transit zones and nonresidential uses throughout the city. It's fairly a single plan for the entire District. And I guess I'm wondering how do we manage that increased density and protect our trees and our canopy? And -- yeah, if you could give me some insight on that it'd be wonderful.

  • 13:17:29

    BROWNWhen you see those things coming, John, whether the specifics in this question are right to the letter or not, how do you react as a tree professional, someone who really cares about maintaining trees?

  • 13:17:42

    THOMASIt's definitely our biggest -- our biggest struggle is with development. It's -- there's no, you know, running out of space for the tree. As you know the roots and the canopy need a lot of space. We've done a couple different things. So in this case we have helped and we've provided information to make sure that the zoning rewrite would have -- and they've already put it in there -- as it's a green area ratio concept which would allow for landscape and trees and requirements for reaching 40 percent canopy cover on a property. And a lot of those are intrinsic to that rewrite.

  • 13:18:12

    THOMASAnd there's actually a lot of benefits in there. It hasn't been written in over 50 years, if I remember right, so it's due for some changes. Something we've done recently, we received stimulus money over the last couple of years, about $4 million and we started removing concrete. And we actually removed close to three acres of pavement. So we expanded tree boxes, we created new space, we took the pavement away and replaced the soil and put trees...

  • 13:18:37

    BROWNAnd this is all around the city?

  • 13:18:39

    THOMASAll around the city.

  • 13:18:40

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYThat’s really wonderful.

  • 13:18:41

    THOMASAnd so those are going to be the new techniques I believe to be able to kind of reclaim. So whatever's left and people have said, okay we're going to -- this is going to be paved but we can go back into the area and kind of take out some space and put some trees back.

  • 13:18:53

    BROWNAre you getting good support from the city in terms of trying to protect the -- our trees?

  • 13:18:59

    THOMASYeah, it's -- I would say that all developers come to the table and they realize the benefit of a landscaped property after they're complete with their develop (sic) . So in many cases, the developer is leading kind of the charge. They're putting in continuous root zones. They're putting in storm water-friendly tree boxes so the tree and storm water issues are resolved. Granted it means that we may have to lose some things that we already had. So there's that balance that has to be kind of looked at. But the end product is a more sustainable streetscape or a sustainable planting space.

  • 13:19:35

    BROWNMelanie Choukas-Bradley, what can individual residents do here in the D.C. area to care for trees, whether it's their own trees or not.

  • 13:19:44

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYTheir own or city street trees.

  • 13:19:46


  • 13:19:47

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYThere is so much you can do and our trees really depend on the help of the people who live here. When trees are first planted for the first three years of their lives they need a lot of water. They're just not going to survive without being watered. And you can become a citizen forester with Casey Trees. You can become a canopy keeper. Is that what you call your tree stewards?

  • 13:20:09

    THOMASThat's correct.

  • 13:20:09

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYThere are wonderful organizations that you can get involved with to water the trees on your streets and in your neighborhoods.

  • 13:20:17

    BROWNWhere do you start? I mean, I didn't know about this and I've lived downtown for the last 10 to 12 years. There's some beautiful trees in my neighborhood and it's the sort of thing I can probably get involved with. Who would I call...

  • 13:20:29

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYYeah, yeah.

  • 13:20:30

    BROWN...and, you know, we'll have some information on this, up at our website...

  • 13:20:33


  • 13:20:33 (sic) . So be sure to go there. But I'm just kind of curious about a couple of names of organizations or where would you start?

  • 13:20:40

    THOMASYou can start with our organization or Forestry Administration and Department of Transportation. And we have a Canopy Keeper program where you can sign up and we'll deliver a water tub to your resident -- to your address and you can, it's an open top so you can dump water in from a bucket, a jug, a hose, whatever you have.

  • 13:20:57

    BROWNIf I were just starting to make the first reach out, what would -- what name...

  • 13:21:02


  • 13:21:02

    BROWN...would I want to remember?

  • 13:21:03

    THOMASCanopy Keeper and...

  • 13:21:04

    BROWNCanopy Keeper.

  • 13:21:04

    THOMAS...get -- yep. is our website and from there you can just -- the Canopy Keeper will be right there, you can fill out the form.

  • 13:21:13

    BROWNAnd I could probably do a DC search for Canopy Keeper, D.C...

  • 13:21:16


  • 13:21:17


  • 13:21:17

    BROWN...something like that would do it.

  • 13:21:17

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYAnd you could also contact Casey Trees. They have a website, and get involved...

  • 13:21:22

    BROWNAnd that's Casey C-A-S-E-Y?

  • 13:21:24

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYYes. And they're a wonderful organization. They're celebrating their 10th anniversary this year and I think I mentioned, they've trained 1,300 citizen foresters. So you can become a citizen forester too and really get involved in community plantings and all sorts of things. They're also...

  • 13:21:40

    BROWNAnd once again, this will all be on our website,

  • 13:21:43


  • 13:21:43

  • 13:21:45

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYAnother organization I'd like to mention, if you live anywhere near Massachusetts Avenue, between DuPont Circle and all up along Embassy Row, there's a wonderful organization called Restore Mass Ave, that has gotten involved in tree plantings. They -- I think they work with you...

  • 13:22:00


  • 13:22:01

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEY...and they also do watering programs in the summer.

  • 13:22:05

    BROWNThat's very good to know.

  • 13:22:05

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYAnd starting now because we're really...

  • 13:22:07


  • 13:22:08 a rain deficit now. So...

  • 13:22:09

    THOMASAnd there's other...

  • 13:22:10


  • 13:22:10

    THOMAS...groups like Trees For Georgetown, Trees for Capitol Hill.

  • 13:22:14

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYCapitol Hill...

  • 13:22:14

    THOMASSo there's smaller...

  • 13:22:15


  • 13:22:16

    BROWNGreat, well we'll have all this up on the website and encourage you to check some of these organizations out. Let's go to Eve in Washington, D.C. Eve, you're on the air. What's on your mind?

  • 13:22:25

    EVEOh, I've lived in the city for over 40 years and I noted that the haunts that we frequented as teenagers, particularly Rock Creek Park, starting from about Walter Reed, all the way back down South, has really been devastated. Huge trees are lying there. That's okay, that they are just turning into dust. There's been no clear. And I’m wondering if it's just disease. And if anybody has gotten together and integrated plan, perhaps, using resources like the American Museum, those people have incredible knowledge and information and getting our young people engaged because, you know, we just mow our lawns and we don't consider putting up trees which Casey has been trying to encourage. So, how do we save places like Rock Creek Park?

  • 13:23:18

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYWell, one...

  • 13:23:19

    BROWNGood morning.

  • 13:23:20

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEY...there's an organization called the Rock Creek Conservancy which is just wonderful. They have just had a name change, they were known as FORCE, Friends of Rock Creek's Environment. That would be a good place to start. Talk with them. They are involved in removing invasives in Rock Creek Park and that's also a national park service. It's a national park. So the National Park Service is also involved with invasive removal. As far as leaving trees that have fallen, I know a lot of them do fall because there's a lot of erosion in Rock Creek Park. One of the reasons is, we have so many impervious surfaces that when we have heavy storms, there's incredible storm water runoff and it really overwhelms our creek systems.

  • 13:24:04

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYIt's a big problem for our waterways and for the health of the Chesapeake Bay. So there are a lot of things that are going on to try to mitigate that with rain gardens and rooftop gardens. And there's a lot going on. So if you want to get involved there are plenty of ways to do it. As far as leaving a fallen tree, you know, that is -- sometimes it's better to leave to the fallen tree. And I don't really know that much about it. Do you have any thoughts about that, John?

  • 13:24:30

    THOMASYeah. Like, in a -- I mean, those are considered, obviously, we don't want to leave disease trees or things of that sort.

  • 13:24:34

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYNo, of course not.

  • 13:24:35

    THOMASBut leaving trees for nature, so those become homes for squirrels and raccoons and other things. So it does promote the next level and it's also the next step in species and biodiversity. It gives a place for the worms and all these things to happen and decay and things.

  • 13:24:50

    BROWNSo if they're in a safe place...

  • 13:24:51


  • 13:24:51 might as well leave them. They're not going to...

  • 13:24:53

    THOMASThat's correct.

  • 13:24:53

    BROWN...going to be in people's way. We'll be right back in just a moment. We need to take a brief break. So stay with us on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." And if you've got a question about trees, about caring for them, if you want to volunteer and you're interested, we'd love to hear from you at 800-433-8850. We'll be right back on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."

  • 13:27:02

    BROWNIt's "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." I'm Paul Brown and we're back talking about trees, care of trees in the D.C. area, what you can do and just enjoying the green canopy of the Washington, D.C. area. With us, Melanie Choukas-Bradley, a naturalist and the author of "City of Trees: The Complete Field Guide to the Trees of Washington, D.C., third edition." Along with two books on Sugarloaf Mountain.

  • 13:27:26

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYJohn Thomas is here with us as well. He's the associate director of Urban Forestry Administration for the District of Columbia. And in just a moment or so, we'll be talking as well with Sharon Feuer Gruber. She's a nutrition consultant with Bread For the City. It's a non-profit that provides services including food, clothing, medical care and legal and social services to D.C. residents. And, Melanie, while we were on the break, you and I were sharing our deep love for Rock Creek Park.

  • 13:27:55


  • 13:27:56

    BROWNAnd we had a call from one of our listeners who's concerned about what she sees as some devastation and problems in some areas of the park. But I know that you had a couple of things on your mind as well.

  • 13:28:06

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYOh, yes. I just wanted to talk about how blessed we are in the city to have Rock Creek Park running right through the middle of our city. The park -- I kind of think of Rock Creek as a mirror of who we are because we were wise enough, back in 1890, to set aside this stream valley and preserve it in a wild state. And it really is wild.

  • 13:28:26

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYIt does have problems but it is such a beautiful place. I was walking there this morning, I heard a barred owl calling, I saw a pileated woodpecker. I saw a pair of wood ducks. The wild tulip trees are in full bloom, they are so tall that you might not see them but they're in the magnolia family and they have these beautiful orange and yellow flowers. You tend to notice them when squirrels chew them off and they fall in the trail or you see...

  • 13:28:55

    BROWNYou know, I spend...

  • 13:28:55 see the petals.

  • 13:28:55

    BROWN...a lot of time...

  • 13:28:56


  • 13:28:56

    BROWNI spend a lot of time walking and running in the park and I just love it.

  • 13:28:59

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYOh, it's so beautiful.

  • 13:29:00

    BROWNI've seen a pileated woodpecker as well there. I just stopped and watched for the longest time.

  • 13:29:04


  • 13:29:04

    BROWNHe didn't mind my being there. On another day, I saw, across the creek, and I was running along one side of the creek and I stopped immediately when I saw a red fox.

  • 13:29:14


  • 13:29:15

    BROWNAnd he did not know I was there, for some reason. I don’t know why, but he just...

  • 13:29:19

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYThat's amazing.

  • 13:29:19

    BROWN...didn't happen to see me. Of course, I was across the creek so maybe he wasn't all that worried. But he was walking along the creek bank and, in plain view for probably a minute, maybe 45 seconds which is a long time...

  • 13:29:32


  • 13:29:33

    BROWN...and then he ducked off into the woods, you know. But it was a...

  • 13:29:38

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYThat's so wonderful.

  • 13:29:38

    BROWN...wonderful, wonderful sighting. And, you know, these what we're describing are just a few of the sightings of wildlife that can occur in Rock Creek Park, right in the middle of the city.

  • 13:29:48

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYIt's truly extraordinary. And then we have all this beautiful wild space along the Potomac River. I like to hike on the Billy goat trails, not just on the one that everybody knows, the famous one, but there's -- that's Billy goat A, but there's also Billy goat B and Billy goat C and you can walk along that river and imagine that you are back centuries ago. It is so wild. I watched a bald eagle there last week and you see people paddling along and, you know, it's just -- it's very ancient and wild.

  • 13:30:20

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYSo in our city, we have this wild space as well as having the tree lined avenues and all the beautiful gardens which we haven't really talked about. But the Bishops Garden and the Botanic Garden and the Gardens at the museum at the American Indian and Museum of National History. We have all these beautiful gardens but we also have the wild space.

  • 13:30:39

    BROWNI want to talk about the gardens in a moment or so. But where -- how do you get to the Billy goat trails, for people who have not been there?

  • 13:30:44

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYYes. Well, it's the Carderock region. There's an exit off of the Clara Barton Parkway, for Carderock. And you follow that exit and you -- there are parking lots right there along the river and the trails are between the Potomac River and the towpath. And there are beautiful trees along there. Beautiful cottonwoods and black walnuts and sycamore trees, giant sycamore trees.

  • 13:31:10

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYIt's just -- it's a great way to go and really appreciate trees. It's also fun to rent a kayak, either at Thompson boathouse -- I don't think the kayaking season is open yet but in the summer you can rent a kayak or canoe at Thompson or Fletcher's boathouse and paddle along the shore and admire the trees of the city of trees that way. So there are a lot of different ways to enjoy them.

  • 13:31:32

    BROWNSpeaking about valuing trees and admiring them, let's talk with Anne from Bethesda, Md. Anne, good afternoon, you're on the air.

  • 13:31:39

    ANNEHi, it's funny you're talking about Carderock. I'm sitting in the parking lot, not getting out with the dogs. (unintelligible) ...

  • 13:31:46

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYAt Carderock?

  • 13:31:48

    ANNEI am right at the trail head of -- for the A section of the Billy goat trail.

  • 13:31:53


  • 13:31:53

    ANNEAnd my dogs are sitting in the car, nagging me to go...

  • 13:31:56

    BROWNYeah, they want to -- they want to be out walking.

  • 13:31:59

    ANNEThey don't know what this hold up is all about.

  • 13:32:01


  • 13:32:02

    ANNEI am calling you because all of the things you have said, it's hard to disagree with. There's certainly wonderful things to say. But what can you say to your neighbors who do not hold value for trees? And instead want to cut them down and do not respond well to thoughts of how their particular tree is offering all sorts of wonderful advantages to, not just their home, but to their neighbors home, to their neighborhood, to the value of the neighborhood, to the amount of runoff that comes out of the neighborhood to local streams or offers habitats.

  • 13:32:39

    ANNEWell, there's just no way that they seem to hear what you're saying about the science and the value of trees. And also, I see a lot of times, people think they're improving their lot by digging up the turf, replacing it with new grass around their beautiful oak tree and then within a few years their oak tree is dead.

  • 13:33:01

    BROWNJohn? Melanie? Either one, let's start with John here.

  • 13:33:04

    THOMASYeah, I mean, it's -- obviously, that's a process of education and trying to get someone to kind of see the benefits of that tree. And...

  • 13:33:13

    BROWNWhat do you say?

  • 13:33:14


  • 13:33:15

    BROWNSay someone comes up and says just what Anne's describing "I don't want that thing, I really, you know, I'm sick and tired of dealing with the leaves. It's, you know, busting up my sidewalk. I'm just going to cut the thing down. Forget it and plant a nice green lawn." What do you say?

  • 13:33:29

    THOMASWell, we -- I -- we start to explain to them the benefits that the tree's a house or a habitat for over 1,500 different species. It's providing shade during the summer which D.C. is -- has a brutal summer. So it's controlling your air conditioning costs. It's making your street more, you know, community feeling when you drive down a tree line street. The benefits are hard because they're not something that are just there. But the problem with the trees, we should've -- once you remove it, you can't really go back. So it's a bad decision seeing very apparently, the next day...

  • 13:34:07

    BROWNEspecially if it's a big beautiful hardwood tree or something like that.

  • 13:34:09


  • 13:34:10


  • 13:34:10

    THOMASAnd it's taking so long to get there...

  • 13:34:12


  • 13:34:12

    THOMAS...and what we do know from science is that it is getting harder and harder to get trees established. It's harder to find planting space that has good soil and where the trees can get established -- and they can live to get back to that same size. So once they're 30 inches, 40 inches in diameter like it sounds like we're talking about, you know, that's really a rarity. It's something that needs to be preserved and kept and raking leaves, it's, you know, try to be a kid again make it fun and enjoy.

  • 13:34:40


  • 13:34:40


  • 13:34:40

    BROWNJust be out there and enjoy it. Anne, I hope that's helpful. I want you to get those dogs out on the walk. It's time...

  • 13:34:45

    ANNEWell, thank you so much. The dogs are eager to get there. All of...

  • 13:34:48

    BROWNWhat are their names? What are their names?

  • 13:34:50

    ANNEWell, then everybody will know who I am though.

  • 13:34:52

    BROWNOK, well, you don't have to tell me. But they're fun, aren't they? They sound very good natured. Everybody in your neighborhood already knows.

  • 13:35:00

    ANNEWell, they probably do because the Tank is my Chesapeake Bay and...

  • 13:35:04


  • 13:35:04

    ANNE...Igo is my English Shepherd. And we patrol our own neighborhood and say things like "Oh, I think that tree is lovely. You should see that tree."

  • 13:35:14

    BROWNWell put...

  • 13:35:14

    ANNE"What were you thinking when you dug that up?"

  • 13:35:16

    BROWNThere you go.

  • 13:35:17

    ANNESo on and I've been giving out links to sites where you can print coupons for the State of Maryland for $25 to purchase a native large canopy tree. You can't give them away. It's so sad. It breaks my heart.

  • 13:35:33


  • 13:35:33

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYI wonder about the economic argument that trees increase property values.

  • 13:35:38

    ANNEWell, I'm working on that.

  • 13:35:39

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYHave you tried that?

  • 13:35:40

    ANNEI am working so hard on that. You wouldn’t believe it. A neighbor of ours had one of her oak trees valued at over $54,000.

  • 13:35:51

    BROWNWell, thank you very much...

  • 13:35:51


  • 13:35:52

    BROWN...for calling, Anne.

  • 13:35:53

    ANNEWell, thank you for listening. I appreciate your time.

  • 13:35:53

    BROWNI wish you good luck on all this and you seem to be a real booster of trees and keeping them and maintaining them and encouraging people to plant more of them. I think it's great. Anne, from Bethesda, Md., get out there and walk, enjoy it on the Billy goat trail. Have a great afternoon.

  • 13:36:12


  • 13:36:12

    BROWNWe've got a -- we've got an email from Steve here. And this may lead into a question, also for you Sharon Gruber. "Does the city include fruit bearing trees in its plans? Though sometimes messy" the email says "they're appropriate for certain locations." And along with that question is this one which John, you may be able to answer, John Thomas, "Does the city include bee friendly trees such as linden, black locust, tulip, poplar, etcetera when deciding what to plant?" But let's start with Sharon Gruber here because Sharon, as I understand it, your organization Bread for the City is getting very, very interesting project underway involving fruit bearing trees. Why don't you tell us about it.

  • 13:36:53

    GRUBERIt's very exciting, thanks for asking. City Orchard is our latest agricultural project. To our knowledge, it's the largest agricultural project of its kind that's being managed directly by a food pantry. And we just got the plants in the ground, about 1, 150 plants, a combination of persimmon, blackberry, blueberry, different varieties of apples and different varieties of Asian pears.

  • 13:37:16

    BROWNAll within the District?

  • 13:37:18

    GRUBERIt's just outside the District on UDC land in Beltsville, so it's about 30 minutes outside the District. And when they bear fruit, in 2014, we're expecting about 40,000 pounds of fruit to feed our food pantry clients. About 5,000 households a month are fed through Bread for the city.

  • 13:37:35

    BROWNAmazing. How did this idea -- how was this idea born and how did you make it happen?

  • 13:37:42

    GRUBERIt's -- the idea was really just pushing the envelope. Really looking at the food that we were providing in the food pantry, wanting to make sure it was as healthy as possible. Knowing our budget constraints and then just thinking outside the box a bit. I actually called Casey Trees who was referenced earlier and developed a partnership with Mark Buscaino, the ED over there who's been a fantastic partner.

  • 13:38:07

    GRUBERAnd he introduced me to UDC. And Casey Trees provided the technical expertise. We provided the distribution system and the people we wanted to feed and UDC was generous enough to provide their property. We then got a grant through the USDA to install the orchard and now we're doing an adopt a tree program where people can adopt a tree for a year, it's $35 a year. And we're really excited about it. We're very proud to be leading food pantries this way nationally.

  • 13:38:41

    BROWNAnd the Casey Trees website...

  • 13:38:41

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYThat's so exciting.

  • 13:38:42 the way...

  • 13:38:43

    GRUBERThank you.

  • 13:38:43

    BROWN...once again is online at our website. You'll find a link there. Also to Bread for the City where you can find out, I would imagine, about adopting a tree. So how long have the trees been in the ground?

  • 13:38:55

    GRUBERWe started planting in March. We had over 100 volunteers including Bread for the City clients. That's one of the other things that's very exciting to us about it, is it's so close to the city that we can involve the people most invested in Bread for the City in the process. If they're interested in taking care of the trees, harvesting the fruit and have an experience where donors, clients, volunteers, staff, everyone works together for this...

  • 13:39:19

    BROWNWhen it's harvest time, what will you do?

  • 13:39:21

    GRUBERWe already...

  • 13:39:22

    BROWNIs that volunteer time as well?

  • 13:39:24

    GRUBERWe already have an established, what we call gleaning program, where we send volunteers and a staff coordinator out to farms and orchards and farmer markets and we bring in about 60,000 pounds of local fruit and vegetables. But mostly, by far, vegetables each season. And so this will be a closer model of that. The farms that we now go out to are pretty far and so this will enable more people to be involved and people are eager. If you're interested in learning more about getting involved in the orchard or our rooftop gardens or the gleaning program, anyone can email

  • 13:40:01

    BROWNAnd, you know, one of the difficulties of course with growing and distributing produce is that it's perishable, and this is one of the reasons why canned, preserved, and frankly, processed foods have become so very popular in the U.S. Often they are not as healthful as fresh and whole foods, so how do you plan to distribute and make sure that a large percentage of what you produce from these trees and bushes actually gets to people in time?

  • 13:40:36

    GRUBERSo we picked the crops in part because we wanted to make sure we had a continuous harvest.

  • 13:40:40


  • 13:40:41

    GRUBERSo we have 400 apple trees, but we also have Asian Pears that will come a little bit later. The berries will come first. We're going to have things ready to be picked from June all the way through the end of October, and the demand is there with more than -- about 5,000 households a month, we can't give people fresh fruit and vegetables fast enough. Additionally, it being so close, and it being a seamless process because we're the food pantry doing the distribution, we're not going to be damaging the fruit as much. It's going to be picked, then if it's in the morning, we can distribute it that afternoon.

  • 13:41:13

    BROWNThat's very, very impressive. Once again, check the website for all this information about Bread for the City and its new program, to bring orchard bearing -- fruit-bearing trees to its food distribution program. I've not heard of anything like that before around DC. We have a question -- a tweet from K.S. "Please ask the DDOT Urban Forestry Department to stop hurting trees on upper Wisconsin Avenue." So John Thomas, what can you tell us about that? Do you know anything about this?

  • 13:41:47

    THOMASNo. I would say just send us the specifics and we'll certainly look into it, but I'm not sure what it's...

  • 13:41:55

    BROWNLet me ask you a related question. When a tree has to come down, how do you make the decision, and is there a use for it?

  • 13:42:04

    THOMASYeah. So no arborist is -- unfortunately you become an arborist and you get your certifications, and you take your education and all the things that you've learned in your experience, and then you go out and you actually -- the one thing you do mostly is remove trees because it's kind of the -- you're the one making the final call. We certainly try to keep trees as long as possible. We go through a series of steps in looking at the risk, looking at the condition of the tree, but all decisions are based off the health of the tree, not -- and is the guiding factor.

  • 13:42:38

    THOMASSo we'll look at the tree's ability to withstand future wind events or storm events, look at disease issues, structural issues of the tree, but really it's -- there's kind of an industry standard of a risk form that we walk through and make determinations and then once that decision is made, we move forward.

  • 13:42:57

    BROWNSo it's a very organized process?

  • 13:42:59

    THOMASVery organized process.

  • 13:42:59

    BROWNIt's not just let's take this tree down?

  • 13:43:01


  • 13:43:01

    BROWNHey, let's go the phone with Jonathan in Beltsville, Md. Jonathan, what's on your mind?

  • 13:43:06

    JONATHANYes. Off of that question, I am a woodworker...

  • 13:43:10


  • 13:43:10

    JONATHAN...and nothing depresses me more than when I see a beautiful tree that had to come down by choice or not, and it's turned into mulch or taken to a landfill. Does the city do anything with trees that are viable for lumber, or is everything just mulched or taken to a landfill?

  • 13:43:27

    THOMASWe do a bunch of different things. Obviously a large chunk of it is mulch because we're removing hazardous trees and diseased trees, so we have to process it to the point where disease and spores and things can be broken out. Trees that have parts or pieces, or trunks that are still useful, we do work with a group up in Maryland and we send them wood and they've made lumber for us to use in community planting down on the USDA property on the Mall. We're working to get some property in D.C.

  • 13:44:02

    THOMASThat's been the biggest struggle, to find a place to do all of this, because it requires space. Eventually we will move into where we can create our own tree stakes, and eventually onto the green lumbar piece, but we're not quite ready for that, but we -- most things that can be used again are used again by our contractors and whatever has to be turned into mulch is turned into mulch.

  • 13:44:26

    JONATHANOkay. Thank you very much.

  • 13:44:27

    BROWNHey, thanks very much for calling Jonathan. We'll be back, we'll go to the phone some more. We're glad to have your calls after this brief break. I'll Paul Brown and this is "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."

  • 13:46:17

    BROWNIt's "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." We're back. I'm Paul Brown sitting in for Kojo today, and with us, Melanie Choukas-Bradley, a naturalist, and the author of "City of Trees: The Complete Field Guide to the Trees of Washington D.C." As we talk about the District areas, trees, our wonderful green canopy, how to care for it, what you can do to help. John Thomas is the associate director of Urban Forestry Administration for the District of Columbia, and Sharon Feuer Gruber is the nutrition consultant with Bread for the City, and that's a non-profit that provides services, including food, to vulnerable D.C. residents, and has just started an orchard program to bring fresh fruit to its clientele.

  • 13:46:58

    BROWNSo let's go to the phone briefly again here and check in here with Joyce from Northwest D.C. Joyce, you're on the air?

  • 13:47:08

    JOYCEHi, thanks for taking my call.

  • 13:47:09


  • 13:47:10

    JOYCEI live in far northwest D.C., and I commute everyday through Rock Creek Park to the Pentagon. I know you guys were talking about Rock Creek before, and it just made me think of just how extraordinarily lucky I am compared to everybody else I work with that on my daily commute I see deer and trees and flowers and everything, and everybody else sees the back of the car in front of them on the beltway, you know?

  • 13:47:29

    JOYCEAnd I just had a question about how you guys balance, or think about the park space and its functional, you know, it's easy to understand a park is a place where you go to play and relax and recreate, but also just the ability to have that as a commuting route is the reason I -- I came back from Afghanistan, and that was my one requirement was that we lived off the park. I wanted to live near trees and have that be my commuting route. I didn't want the misery that everybody else has, and how you kind of incorporate that, you know, a park land into a functional space or into something as mundane and as, you know, not park-like as normal people think about it like the commuting route.

  • 13:48:07

    JOYCEBecause I know we're always, you know, you have bikers and everybody else that you're kind of sharing the road with, and I imagine it's a tough balance to strike.

  • 13:48:14

    BROWNWell, some response on that? John?

  • 13:48:16

    THOMASYeah. I mean, that's a perfect -- it's very hard to find those spots again, right? We typically -- everything gets kind of demolished and then we build a road and from a standpoint of commuting through it at least like that. So I think there's probably very few cities in the country that have the ability to do that. I know my wife actually has the same -- she loves the fact that she can drive through the park on the way to work and it's very calming, and coming back, and I think it's unique. It's something that D.C. offers that we just don't have in other places.

  • 13:48:48

    GRUBERIt really is. And it's so nice that Beach Drive functions as your commuter route during the week, and then on the weekends it's closed...

  • 13:48:56

    BROWNI love that.

  • 13:48:56

    GRUBER...and it's just as busy...

  • 13:48:57


  • 13:48:58

    BROWNIt's so great. It's busy -- it's filled with bikers and walkers and all that.

  • 13:48:58

    GRUBERIt's just as busy with bicycles and -- yeah. Yeah. It's wonderful.

  • 13:49:02

    BROWNIt's a totally different place on the weekends.

  • 13:49:04

    GRUBERIt is. It really is.

  • 13:49:05

    BROWNAnd wonderful in its own way at both times of the week.

  • 13:49:09


  • 13:49:09

    BROWNHey, we have -- thanks very much, Joyce, for calling. I appreciate your checking in with us. We've got a couple of emails and one from Ken asking Melanie if you would talk about the benefits of planting native versus non-native trees. You know, you had said that we have many, many trees from all around the globe in D.C., but are there benefits to planting native trees? If so, what are they?

  • 13:49:30

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYYes. There are many benefits to planting native trees in your yard, and if you don't have a huge space, you can choose a small species like a Sweet Bay Magnolia or a Fringe Tree. Both of them are in full bloom right now. They're absolutely beautiful, but, you know, planting native Oaks and Maples and Beeches and Hickory is a great thing to do for a lot of reasons. Our wildlife interacts with the native species and, you know, there is concern about invasive plants, and most of the trees in Washington have not become invasive as of yet, but when you plant a native tree, you know that you're not taking that risk.

  • 13:50:08


  • 13:50:08

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYSo yes, there are many, many benefits.

  • 13:50:10

    BROWNWe have an email from Jessica and here it comes. We've all been there. "I live on a street with a few large condo buildings and a ton of dogs. What is the best way to prevent these dogs from doing their business on our trees?" Okay. We're throwing this open. Okay. John or Melanie, either one. Any suggestions...

  • 13:50:29

    GRUBERI'll opt out.

  • 13:50:30

    BROWN...aside from telling the...

  • 13:50:31


  • 13:50:31

    THOMASI don't know. Yeah.

  • 13:50:32

    BROWN...the owners to just keep them away. But what else? Is there anything?

  • 13:50:35

    THOMASTraining the human, first. I think you gotta -- you put up signs. I think signs have been -- and not the ones that say don't poop here, but the signs that actually talk about the impact that they're having. And...

  • 13:50:49


  • 13:50:50

    THOMAS…dogs do two things I think, is that obviously everyone's concerned about the urine and the salt and the concentrations that would happen in the soil from that repeated effort, and the other is the compaction. Dogs do a tremendous amount of compaction as well.

  • 13:51:03

    BROWNCompaction of the soil...

  • 13:51:04

    THOMASOf the soil, right.

  • 13:51:04

    BROWN...just by standing on it? Right.

  • 13:51:06

    THOMASRunning and jumping around.

  • 13:51:07


  • 13:51:08

    THOMASI think it's just trying to educate people that you can have both. You just have to be cognizant of where you are with your pet and putting fencing up and with signs saying that this area is for the tree.

  • 13:51:19

    BROWNYou know, I happen to be a dog person, and it was great to hear from one of our listeners earlier. I was just about to head out on a walk, and I love dogs. I do not like the destruction that they can wreak. I've had a lot of dogs over the years, including big ones, Dobermans, and as you said, training the human, John, I think is very, very important. But my wife put up a sign in our yard at one point when were living in North Carolina, and we were having some problems with this, and it was a friendly sign. It said, there's a city ordinance, please respect the ordinance, and she talked about the bacteria that are deposited and all this sort of thing, and you know, it worked.

  • 13:51:57

    BROWNSo Jessica, you might want to just put up some signs and persuade people gently. You would be amazed at how many people will actually pay heed. Sharon Gruber -- Sharon Feuer-Gruber, you had a comment here on this.

  • 13:52:11

    GRUBERYes. I just wanted to go back to Melanie's comment about the native tress. City Orchard is able to be grown organically actually because we're using native root stock...

  • 13:52:21


  • 13:52:21

    GRUBER...and we bought the trees from a nursery that was able to graft on all of these different species on top of it. So it's an interesting process where they line up the vascular tissue and then bandage the trees together so we have the fruit up top that might have a harder time growing in the native to this area, but we have the native root stock, which will be more disease resistant.

  • 13:52:45

    BROWNWow. That's great to know. Dan, Washington D.C., you have been waiting a long time and you are now on the air.

  • 13:52:51

    DANYeah. I guess I had a question for the gentleman from the Urban Forestry Department. I live in northeast and was frankly alarmed by the acres of forest or woods that were kind of mowed down for the Fort Lincoln development. It was the sort of thing that I guess I'd expect like in a suburban area, but was sort of shocked to see it in the city. I mean, there's just no trees left at all. They just mowed down this entire area, and I'm just curious what the city or your office was -- what the relationship was to that.

  • 13:53:24

    THOMASYeah. That development was an old -- what they refer to as a PUD, and so it had kind of gotten the sign off back almost a decade ago I guess now for a lot of the ability to do -- to develop that site, and many of the trees that were on there were either weed species or trees that were below the threshold for what the urban preservation act requires for compensation, but some were, and so they did compensate for trees that were above the 55-inch limit, and they do have a pretty robust planning plan.

  • 13:53:57

    THOMASCertainly it's not gonna be, you know, there's large buildings going there, and I think this is -- hits back on the question earlier of how do you develop -- how to do you balance development in natural areas, and granted from our perspective, it's better to have acreage of open space and natural space but sometimes there's -- the balance has to be struck from a planning standpoint and any other pieces.

  • 13:54:23

    BROWNDan, does that at least partly satisfy your curiosity about this even if you don't agree with what's going on?

  • 13:54:32

    DANWell, I mean, you know, the trees are gone, so there's not much, you know, I could do about it, but I am sort of happy to hear that at least a -- you know, they have some plan to do some plantings, and certainly, you know, whatever legislation has been needed, you know, and a path that won't allow this to happen again. It was just (unintelligible) to see it basically go, you know, you just sort of kind of picture it being covered up with parking lots, which I also live in Northeast near Home Depot, and that of course is, you know, another chunk of asphalt.

  • 13:55:05


  • 13:55:06

    DANSo, you know, I guess that's pretty much all I have to say.

  • 13:55:09


  • 13:55:10

    DAN(unintelligible) about the plan.

  • 13:55:11

    BROWNGreat. Well, thanks so much, Dan for calling. We have a couple of phone calls and emails regarding tree trimming by utility workers. John, what can you tell us about the work that you may or may not do with utilities and, are there any policies around the district to help protect trees and make the tree trimming a little more artful? We have one email saying that "utility workers performed quite an inartful job on a young tree on my block. Every time I walk past the tree I sigh at how beautiful it might have been."

  • 13:55:42

    BROWNWe have a caller waiting from Bethesda, Md. Paul what is on your mind? You're on the air. I understand you have some concern about this issue as well.

  • 13:55:49

    PAULYeah. In my small community north of NIH, Pepco is about to take out about 50 trees because it's easier for them to take out a tree once than to come back in 10 or 15 years and trim it again.

  • 13:56:06

    BROWNWell, let's hear from John Thomas about this, and Paul, we're a little short on time, so I'm gonna thank you for calling, and let you take your answer off the air. But John, what sorts of things do you have to work with here when you work with utilities?

  • 13:56:23

    THOMASIt's a very -- obviously, it's a difficult situation. We have very large trees growing around electrical infrastructure. There are safety concerns. The trees can become energized when wires and trees have a conflict, but I would say in our case, in D.C. -- I can't speak to Maryland, but in D.C., we have an agreement -- a vegetation plan that we signed with Pepco back in 2005 which we work off of, and we also follow the industry's best management practices for utility burning, and we have a very close working relationship.

  • 13:56:53

    THOMASWe see them daily in the field, we work with their workers, their foresters. They often -- and many times they're reengineering their lines to fit our trees. They're moving the wire, they're moving the pole height. So we're doing everything we can possibly do to find a balance between the two, and sometimes we win and sometimes we lose, but their pruning practices have gotten extremely better over the last -- have been improved over the last 10 years. The industry as a whole has learned a lot in the last 10 years so...

  • 13:57:12

    BROWNMm-hmm. So there are some signs of progress...

  • 13:57:24

    THOMASThere are signs.

  • 13:57:25

    BROWN...and it's not as though it's being ignored. You're working on it.

  • 13:57:28

    THOMASYeah. In D.C. specifically. I definitely agree in older areas as you move out, there is -- it's a different view, but we are definitely working tree by tree with them.

  • 13:57:36

    BROWNSo much that we wanted to get to Melanie Choukas-Bradley, one or two trees that we could go and see that are really spectacular in D.C. We have under a minute here, but I -- just give us one or two examples.

  • 13:57:47

    CHOUKAS-BRADLEYOkay. Here's one. There is a giant Willow Oak on the Capitol grounds that is absolutely magnificent, and it was one of Thomas Jefferson's favorite trees. Not that particular specimen, but Willow Oaks.

  • 13:58:00

    BROWNGreat. Well thank you so much all of you. Thanks for your calls. Melanie Choukas-Bradley, John Thomas, and Sharon Fueer Gruber, thanks each of you for joining us on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."

  • 13:58:11


  • 13:58:11

    GRUBERThank you so much.

  • 13:58:11

    THOMASThank you.

  • 13:58:12

    BROWNI'm Paul Brown. "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" is produced by Brendan Sweeney, Michael Martinez, Ingalisa Schrobsdorff, and Tayla Burney with help from Kathy Goldgeier and Elizabeth Weinstein. Diane Vogel is our managing producer. Engineer today Andrew Chadwick. Natalie Yuravlivker is on the phones. Podcasts of shows are available. I'm Paul Brown. Thanks for joining us.

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