Flowers on a magnolia tree begin to bloom on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol - March 3, 2017.

Flowers on a magnolia tree begin to bloom on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol - March 3, 2017.

In the 1800s, tens of thousands of trees were planted in D.C., earning the District the nickname “The City of Trees.” By 1950, the city’s tree canopy — which refers to the part of the city covered by tree leaves and branches when viewed from above — was at 50%. By 2001 that number fell to just over 35%. Now, the District has 39% tree canopy, with the goal of achieving 40% by 2032.

Tree canopy is important for many reasons: It reduces summer peak temperatures and air pollution, prevents erosion, provides habitat for wildlife, and helps attract businesses and residents.

So, is the city’s tree canopy equal in all eight wards? Or have the poorer communities in Wards 7 and 8 been neglected?

We speak with Brenda Richardson, an environmental advocate and member of Friends of Oxon Run and Earl Eutsler, the associate director at the D.C.’s Urban Forestry Administration. Then, we talk about Ward 8’s nearly 2,000 acres of forest with Nathan Harrington, the executive director of the Ward 8 Woods Conservancy.

Produced by Kurt Gardinier


  • Brenda Richardson Environmental Advocate, Member, Friends of Oxon Run
  • Nathan Harrington Executive Director, Ward 8 Woods Conservancy; @ward8woods
  • Earl Eutsler Associate Director/State Forester, Urban Forestry Administration, District Department of Transportation; @DDOTDC


  • 12:00:03

    KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. Welcome. Did you know that Washington D.C. was once referred to as the City of Trees? That's right. Back in the 1800s tens of thousands of trees were planted in the District giving the city that moniker. By 1950 the District's tree canopy, the part of the city covered by tree leaves and branches when viewed from above, was at 50 percent. But by 2001 that number had dropped to 35 percent. Now, it's back on the rise with the city's goal of reaching 40 percent by the year 2032. So how do local leaders plan on doing that and how are they making sure all neighborhoods are treated the same? Joining us now is Earl Eutsler, the Associate Director with D.C.'s Urban Forestry Administration. Earl Eutsler, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:00:51

    EARL EUTSLERThank you, Kojo, so much for having us and Happy New Year to you and your listeners.

  • 12:00:55

    NNAMDIHappy New Year to you too, Earl. Trees are often taken for granted or are undervalued. But, Earl, how important are trees and how do you and the urban forestry view them?

  • 12:01:07

    EUTSLERWell, trees are absolutely critical to our livability and our general sense of wellness. Since the beginning of time, trees have been central to the human experience. They've provided us with food, protection, shelter, resources and these things continue to be true. One of the things that sets the District apart from so many cities in the country is that it was planned with space dedicated specifically for public trees. Part of the La Fonte Plan created dedicated street tree planting locations as well as buffers between buildings and roadways to create a more tree friendly landscape. So trees are absolutely central to the livability of our communities. And at DDOT in the Urban Forestry Division we're committed to ensuring that we grow a healthy and safe tree canopy across the entire city.

  • 12:02:09

    NNAMDIAs I mentioned earlier, the District's tree canopy went from 50 percent in the year 1950 to 35 percent in 2001. How did that happen? What effect did that have on our environment?

  • 12:02:21

    EUTSLERYeah. It's a well-documented change. And there was several drivers of that. First was we had some serious economic issues in the city with population drain, tax base erosion. But we also had many ecological threats, so we had the ravages of Dutch Elm disease, for instance, which had set in in the 60s and was decimating the tens of thousands of American Elms that lined the city's grand avenues. And without adequate municipal budgets to address those needs and address those challenges much less plant and establish the next generation of trees, the tree canopy overall declined dramatically in that period.

  • 12:03:13

    NNAMDIOne would think, however, that tress would regenerate on their own. How and why are trees lost when they're not maintained?

  • 12:03:21

    EUTSLERYeah. This is a really good question and a good observation. You know, we are blessed in the Mid-Atlantic to live in a place where trees do -- they are the natural land cover. So left fully alone, trees will eventually establish. However, we can't just do nothing and hope for our trees to -- the right tree to take place and for it to thrive and flourish. And so for us managing trees in the city, it's about choosing appropriate trees in the right spaces and then caring for them from the time they're installed throughout their life and then ultimately removing them when that's the appropriate management decision.

  • 12:03:59

    NNAMDIDuring that decline in tree canopy, were the neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River in Ward 7 and 8 neglected more than other areas?

  • 12:04:09

    EUTSLERWell, you know, I've been in DDOT's Urban Forestry Division for 17 years now. And so while I wasn't necessarily on the job in the 80s or 90s, I know that coming in 2004 we saw deferred maintenance across the entire city, but absolutely, there were some of the greatest needs east of the river in Ward 7 and 8.

  • 12:04:30

    NNAMDIJoining us now is Brenda Richardson, an Environmental Advocate and a Member of Friends of Oxon Run, a D.C. owned park in Ward 8. Brenda Richardson, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:04:40

    BRENDA RICHARDSONThank you, Kojo, for having me.

  • 12:04:43

    NNAMDIWhen and why did you decide to get involved with environmental advocacy work in your neighborhood in Ward 8?

  • 12:04:50

    RICHARDSONWell, it was about 20 years ago. I was invited to an environmental meeting and noticed that there were not many people color and that's when I became an eco-feminist. And I've been adamant about making sure that the environment is on our radar screen especially in Ward 8 as much as possible. The challenge was when folks were trying to feed their kids and keep a roof over their heads the environment was not always a priority.

  • 12:05:29

    NNAMDITell us about the green space east of the river. Many people may not know it, but there are hundreds of acres of woods.

  • 12:05:37

    RICHARDSONWell, I think, you know, there are so many hidden gems in Ward 8 that people just haven't experienced or know about. Oxon Run Park is the largest park in DPR's inventory. We also have Oxon Cove, which is a federal park and it's this incredibly beautiful hidden gem that we just have not connected with. And I think there's great value in trees and forests especially in urban disfavored communities.

  • 12:06:17

    NNAMDIIndeed. Debbie emails, "I live in Maryland, but often enjoy riding through streets in D.C. and enjoy the beautiful trees. I hope amongst all the rampant building of concrete buildings that everyone can realize that we cannot live without them. Save the beautiful, majestic ones that are left." And here is Ana in Burk, Virginia, who I think you may know, Brenda. Ana, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:06:40

    ANAHi, Kojo. Thank you so much for having me. Hi, Brenda and guest. I'm cofounder of the local non-profit Capital Nature. And our mission is to connect people in the DMV to the abundance of nature in our region. And we just wanted to mention an event that we thought was really appropriate to mention today. We have a free online event called The Secret Life and Folklore of Winter Trees. It's on Thursday January 21st from 12:00 to 1:00 and it's on event bright. You can find this event and more on our website at and if this is a program that is going to be offered by local naturalists Alonso Abugattas also known as the Capital Naturalist on Facebook, and he's going to present on area trees and some of the lore behind them.

  • 12:07:19

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call and for sharing that information with us. Brenda Richardson, how important do you feel is having a strong tree canopy throughout the District?

  • 12:07:30

    RICHARDSONWell, I think it's critical to our mental physical and spiritual wellness. I would venture to say that we are on life support in our communities right now. Not only because of the trauma that we are exposed to in our communities on a regular basis, but also this layer of COVID has just increased our health disparities especially east of the river in Ward 7 and 8. But I think the beauty of trees, Kojo, is that they bring this kindness and gentleness that we seldom just don't see, because we're so caught up in our troubles and when I went forest bathing for the first time, I was actually bathing in nature with my eyes, with my hands, with my feet. And what do I mean by that -- and with my ears.

  • 12:08:34

    RICHARDSONWhat do I mean by that? Have you ever cloud watched? I was cloud watching with Melanie whose one of these amazing forest bathing guides. We were just standing in Oxon Run Park looking up at the clouds. And in light of all of the violence and ugliness that has been showered upon us by this pandemic, I think the trees are a tremendous benefit to calming our spirits to improving our mental health.

  • 12:09:04

    RICHARDSONAnd the trails with the trees on either side are good for us to improve our physical health, because I don't know about you, but many of us in my community are what I call pregnant with promise and we want to have the baby, because we gained a considerable amount of weight during COVID. But the trees are just something that we should treasure, because we have so many of them. And they're like medicine, Kojo. They can make us well if we recognize that they're there to help us.

  • 12:09:42

    NNAMDIWell, both you and Melanie have told us about forest bathing in the past. We know about the two you, but are you seeing more people spending time in the parks and green spaces during this pandemic, Brenda?

  • 12:09:55

    RICHARDSONWell, we would like to. And it's hard to determine, you know, what are the requirements during COVID? Is it okay to gather and do forest bathing because, you know, it was just a really magnificent experience for me and I would love to see our children, our seniors, our folks that are working and overwhelmed. I would love to see them forest bathing, because it truly does change your state of mental wellness so that you're not so caught up in all the bad stuff that's happening. You can be caught up in some goodness and find some comfort in just being in a park around trees.

  • 12:10:49

    NNAMDIHere's Mike Tidwell in Takoma Park. We've known Mike Tidwell as a guest on this broadcast. And I'm trying to get to him now, but he's not coming up right now. So allow me to go to Matthew in Alexandria. Matthew, you only have about a minute left in this segment, but go ahead, we've got more time after that.

  • 12:11:08

    MATTHEWHi. Thank you so much, Kojo, for taking my call. So I am an arborist that works for the City of Alexandria and I've worked with Earl as I used to be an arborist for the architect to the Capitol in another lifetime. And the two main issues that I see with equity of tree canopy across different wealth gaps across this region from an Alexandria perspective is that private property dominates the percentage of land ownership. And while the public good can do as much as we can on the land that we have, wealthier people tend to be able to afford trees and the maintenance that goes with caring for them, which can be a significant financial burden.

  • 12:11:49

    MATTHEWAnd the other one that I've noticed is that a lot of urban forestry programs tend to be resident driven. And so wealthier people are more likely to have access to information about those programs and participate in those programs. And one of the positive changes that we've tried to implement in Alexandria in order to close this gap is to switch from an opt in tree planting program to more of an opt out tree planting program where instead of waiting for a resident to request tree planting we'll opt -- we'll inform them of our intention to plant a tree rather than wait for that to come online.

  • 12:12:26

    NNAMDIOkay. Matthew, we're going to take a short break. When we come back, I'll have Earl Eutsler respond to that. Give us a call 800-433-8850. Are the trees in your neighborhood maintained well? I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:12:53

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about tree canopy in D.C. with Brenda Richardson, an Environmental Advocate and Member of Friends of Oxon Run, a D.C. owned park in Ward 8. And Earl Eutsler is the Associate Director with D.C.'s Urban Forestry Administration. But, obviously, people in this region are looking at their own neighborhoods also. And, Earl Eutsler, we got a call from Matthew in Alexandria who talked about wealthier residents having the resources to be able to afford more about tree development in their neighborhoods. How do you deal with that?

  • 12:13:24

    EUTSLERYeah. I think that he's observing some clear trends that we've seen in the District. And so I have a few comments about how we've addressed that here in D.C. We noticed a long time ago over a decade ago that we were getting requests for tree planting in ways that surprised us. Areas of the city that had very few open spaces would generate multiple tree planting requests for a single location whereas areas that had multiple open spaces on a single block would very often not make a single request.

  • 12:13:57

    EUTSLERAnd so it became clear to us that we couldn't just look at where the public was asking for us to plant trees, because it was clear that a great number of the population wasn't aware that these programs were available or perhaps wasn't clear on how to request them or the benefit of doing so. So we've spent a considerable amount of time and energy creating a high quality inventory of all the public trees in the city so that we can deliver the resources we have to the areas where the opportunities are greatest.

  • 12:14:28

    EUTSLERAnd so if -- and a lot of municipal programs I think find themselves in this trap where they end up directing the resources to where people have made the most requests for them. And whereas for us we've look at where opportunity is greatest and delivered the resources there. So, for instance, in the last 10 years we've increased in Ward 8 alone the net numbers were by just under 50 percent in 10 years alone of total public trees. Now that's -- I'm talking now specifically about trees in the public space and the other element of this, which D.C. benefits from is that we have a robust number of programs that provide tree planting initiatives on a whole range of private properties.

  • 12:15:15

    EUTSLERSo we have River Smart Homes, we have Tree Rebate, Community Tree Plantings, all of which are delivered in conjunction with our partners at the Department of Energy and Environment and our close partners Casey Trees. And so I would encourage folks who are interested in pursuing private tree planting opportunities to explore those options. You can now have trees planted on your private property at no cost.

  • 12:15:37

    NNAMDIWell, Brenda Richardson, we got a tweet from Bridget Giblin who writes, "I walked from Northwest D.C. to the eastern part of the city on two different cultural D.C. tours on the same day. Much hotter and less green as soon as you leave Northwest, very sad." Brenda Richardson, that's what you're working to change.

  • 12:15:57

    RICHARDSONYeah. So that addresses the whole issue of the heat islands and the heat sensitivity east of the river versus on the west side of the river. And one of the things that the Friends of Oxon Run is doing with Earl and Casey Trees and DOEE and Mider is we are in the throes of starting a tree challenge where we're inviting those folks on private property to take advantage of these opportunities to get free trees. And hopefully when she walks in a year she'll be walking through the trail in Ward 8 and be just as cool as she is on the other side of the river.

  • 12:16:40

    NNAMDIOkay. Here now is the aforementioned Mike Tidwell in Takoma Park. Mike, you're on the air now. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:16:49

    MIKE TIDWELLHi, Kojo. Thank you so much for having me on your show. I am Director of a group called the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and I'm in the seventh floor of my office in Takoma Park on Eastern Avenue literally looking out on the tree canopy in D.C. all the way to the Cathedral and further. And I see literally dozens of trees dying from English Ivy, literally overwhelming them in the tops of their crowns. And I would say to anyone listening to your show, look out a window wherever you are in D.C. or surrounding areas. You're going to see dying trees from invasive vines, but we never talk about it.

  • 12:17:24

    MIKE TIDWELLWe only talk about planting trees. And in five minutes with a pruning saw I can go save a 100 year old tree from dying and that's tons of carbon saved and urban heat island protection saved. But we don't talk about it. So I would just encourage in this conversation and elsewhere that we be aware of these trees dying right in plain sight and that we not only emphasize planting trees, but that we emphasize saving existing trees. And folks who want to learn more can send an email to if you want to get involved and we can tell you more.

  • 12:17:59

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Mike Tidwell. Always a pleasure talking to you. Here now is Sam in Washington D.C. Sam, your turn.

  • 12:18:12

    SAMYes, thank you for having me on. I'm Dr. Sam Hancock of the Rotary Club of Washington D.C. And we're now in our 30th anniversary of tree planting in downtown Washington D.C. through a program called Trees for the Capitol. And this is in collaboration with the National Park Service and also the Architect for the Capitol. So we plant a tree in the name of each of our speakers that we have on a week to week basis. And now we've added through the National Park Service the GPS coordinates for each trees so that each speaker will know exactly where their tree is located and it could be in five or six National Park locations and downtown D.C. as well as on the Mall itself.

  • 12:19:04

    SAMAnd about 300 of the cherry trees that people enjoy in the spring time with the cherry blossoms have all been paid for by the Rotary Club of Washington D.C.

  • 12:19:17


  • 12:19:18

    SAMAnd I agree with Linda and Mike as far as the maintenance of trees is wonderfully important. And then also the River Smart Homes and communities' projects, replanting, rain barrels and the rain gardens are all wonderfully important to expand the canopy of trees throughout the city.

  • 12:19:40

    NNAMDISam, thank you very much for you call. But then, Earl Eutsler, there's this. An in depth piece in The Washington Post earlier this year described the yearlong push to plant thousands of trees to reach that 40 percent tree canopy goal. One issue they noticed is that the city is running out of space to plant trees. Talk about that and about how you're addressing it.

  • 12:20:03

    EUTSLERYeah, absolutely. So we've been on an aggressive push to establish a healthy thriving tree in every available space now for well over a decade. And so, for instance, this fiscal year alone since October 1, we've planted nearly 750 trees in Ward 8 alone with another 400 to go this spring. And there's I wouldn't describe it necessarily as a crisis in terms of what we're dealing with space. The forest resource, the public forest resource requires continual maintenance to Mike Tidwell's comments earlier. I couldn't agree with you more. And so while we talk often about how we're planting trees, we are just as aggressive in the care and establishment of those trees.

  • 12:20:46

    EUTSLERAnd so while we are at a point where over 97 percent of all public street tree spaces have been planted, we're beginning to shift our focus increasingly to other public lands. So we are, again, in partnership with other actors in this space like Casey Trees. We're planting increasingly on other District land, so this is parks, schools, libraries. And the results really speak for themselves.

  • 12:21:17

    EUTSLERSo, you know, we've measured land cover characteristics. So that's how we assess and determine the rate of urban tree canopy that we have. And between the years 2006 and 2015 when our last study was completed in Ward 8 alone we gained 267 acres of tree canopy. That was second only to the 283 acres we gained in Ward 7. And so these -- are we running out of space? No, because we're also removing thousands of trees every year in public space.

  • 12:21:48

    NNAMDIYeah. But the Post article also notes that adding residents and businesses is also a priority for the District. Trees, obviously, don't necessarily generate tax dollars. How does that complicate your work to plant more trees?

  • 12:22:01

    EUTSLERYeah, well, we have -- what we have I think is a fairly comprehensive suite of programs and regulations. So on the public side we're planting and maintaining trees citywide. And on the private side we have an Urban Forest Preservation Act that regulates the removal of trees, mature and healthy trees. And so this fund is raising large amounts of revenue, which are in turn funding all of the no cost tree planting subsidies and programs I referred to earlier.

  • 12:22:31


  • 12:22:31

    EUTSLERAnd so we can look at how effective these combination of programs are over time. And what I can tell you is that from 2006 to 2015 all eight wards experienced an increase in tree canopy. So I say we're balancing -- we're balancing these competing demands.

  • 12:22:49

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation. Are you a D.C. resident who feels that are not enough trees in certain parts of the city? Give us a call 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:23:20

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about Washington's tree canopy with Earl Eutsler, the associate director with D.C.'s Urban Forestry Administration, and Brenda Richardson, an environmental advocate and member of Friends of Oxon Run at D.C.-owned park in Ward 8. Brenda Richardson, what is the mission of the Friends of Oxon Run Park in Ward 8, and what is your involvement with it?

  • 12:23:42

    RICHARDSONWell, our mission is to preserve and conserve green space in Oxon Run Park. And what we do is work very closely with DPR to activate the park. And one of the big initiatives that we're working on right now is outdoor learning. There's a beautiful amphitheater in Oxon Run Park, and we've been quite fortunate to have monthly outdoor learning events in the amphitheater. But because of COVID, we've only been able to have 30 people.

  • 12:24:19

    RICHARDSONSo, we've had a raptor program, and we've had story time with the D.C. Public Library. We wanted to make sure that parents in disfavored communities also have an option of exploring outdoor learning as another way for them to educate their children.

  • 12:24:41

    NNAMDIWard 8 street canopy has gone up and down over the years, but one thing that has remained consistent is that Ward 8 is home to over 500 acres of forested parkland, something our next guest knows a little about. Nathan Harrington is the executive director of the Ward 8 Woods Conservancy. He joins us now. Nathan, welcome.

  • 12:25:04

    NATHAN HARRINGTONThank you, Kojo, for having me, and a Happy New Year to everyone out there in the DMV. And thank you to Earl and to Brenda for all the great work that you're doing.

  • 12:25:15

    NNAMDINathan, and the work you're doing. What do you and the Ward 8 Woods Conservancy do for the hundreds of acres of forested parkland in Ward 8?

  • 12:25:26

    HARRINGTONYes. So, our niche is to bring some TLC to these forested parklands that have really been neglected over the years. I've lived in Ward 8 since 2009, and I was a teacher. And that job was just so overwhelming on so many levels, that when I wasn't teaching, I really wanted to be outside, and I wanted some time to myself. So, I started out hiking and running in the forests. And then I started to see the level of environmental degradation.

  • 12:25:58

    HARRINGTONYou would see beautiful, you know, eastern hardwood forests and mountain laurel and landscapes that would almost make you think that you were in Shenandoah National Park. But the ground would be covered in trash, things that had been thrown, illegal dumping of car parts and construction materials from who knows where.

  • 12:26:20

    HARRINGTONAnd in light of all of that, the running started to seem like sort of a decadent waste of energy. So, I started spending my alone time in the woods bagging up trash, pretty soon realized that there was way too much than I could handle on my own. And so, with support from Philip Pannell, the legendary Ward 8 activist, he lent the support of the Congress sites community association and later the Anacostia Coordinating Council to what became Committee to Restore Shepherd Parkway.

  • 12:26:50

    HARRINGTONShepherd Parkway is the largest forest area in Ward 8. It used to be 205 acres, but actually, in 2019, eight acres were clear cut, completely leveled and destroyed in order to make way for a new entrance ramp for the Homeland Security campus, the Malcolm X Interchange Project. And when I think about that through the lens of environmental justice, it's hard to imagine eight acres of Rock Creek Park or the C&O Canal being leveled to make way for a road. But that's the reality of what's happened in Ward 8.

  • 12:27:21

    NNAMDIAnd what you call it is environmental (word?), the neglect that you described in the woods in Ward 8. What do you mean by that?

  • 12:27:30

    HARRINGTONYeah, I believe so. It fits this pattern where pollution and negative environmental impact are almost always targeted to lower income communities and communities of color. This is true not just in this country, but I've had the luxury of traveling different parts of the world. And wherever you go, the trash is concentrated in the areas where the poor people lived.

  • 12:27:49

    HARRINGTONAnd, you know, we have this sort of throwaway society where we produce so much waste and we throw it away. But there really is no away, because we only have one planet, and everything on it is connected. When we throw things away, what that usually means is we're putting it on somebody else's land, and that land is usually occupied by people who have less power. And that's what's happened here.

  • 12:28:12

    HARRINGTONAnd so, our focus of the -- we formed the Ward 8 Woods Conservancy in 2018. In the years that I was leading volunteers at Shepherd Parkway, resident of Ward 8 were constantly asking about work. And they liked what we were doing, and they wanted to join, but they didn't have the luxury of working for free. They needed jobs to support themselves.

  • 12:28:35

    HARRINGTONAnd so, with Anacostia Coordinating Council as the fiscal sponsor, we started out with a grant from D.C. Department of Energy and the Environment to create what we call the Park Stewards Program. We advertise for part-time positions, for residents to help remove trash and invasive species from the park land. We got 70 applicants, and we've been running that program continuously since then. We've removed about a quarter of a million pounds. We've cut invasive vines from more than 2,000 trees. But we have a long way to go, and we have ambitions beyond just undoing all of that damage and neglect.

  • 12:29:14

    NNAMDIBrenda Richardson, you're very familiar with what Nathan is talking about . On a related topic, how accessible are the parks and woods in Ward 8, Brenda?

  • 12:29:24

    RICHARDSONWell, I would say that they're pretty accessible. I think that the challenges is that -- I think that Nathan is right. I think that those of us in disfavored communities are so overwhelmed by our daily living that it often doesn't dawn on us that we have parks that we can use and take advantage of. We have lots of picnics in the park. We have folks that play basketball in the park. But as it relates to connecting to nature in the park, that's something that we're working very, very hard on. And I admire the work that Nate and Earl are doing to make that happen.

  • 12:30:11

    NNAMDIWell, Earl Eutsler, it is my understanding that you and D.C.'s Urban Forestry Administration have little or no control or influence with the forests in Ward 8. Is that right, and why is that?

  • 12:30:24

    EUTSLERWell, no. And perhaps I can clarify what I think you mean, is many of the parcels that Ward 8 Woods is doing such excellent work on are under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service...

  • 12:30:34

    NNAMDI(overlapping) Correct.

  • 12:30:34

    EUTSLER...and the General Services Administration. And so, yeah, our municipal district authority doesn't extend into those areas. Which isn't to say we don't find areas of common interest and work together on lots of tree-friendly initiatives. But, yes, much of the parkland, Ward 8, much of the city benefits from a network of federal parks, the Ford Circle parks and others. And Ward 8 is a prime example of that.

  • 12:31:02

    NNAMDIHere now is Eliza in Washington, D.C. Eliza, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:31:09

    ELIZAHi, Kojo. Thanks so much for taking my call. And hello, Brenda and Nate and Earl. It's great to partner with all of you. I'm the director of conservation at Audubon Naturalist Society. We're the oldest independent environmental organization in the D.C. region. And I wanted to just make sure to point out that in addition to all the amazing benefits trees provide us for our health, that Brenda was talking about, and our connection to nature and the world, for the shade and the value to residents that Earl was talking about, they are also one of our cheapest ways to handle stormwater, which is the District's, I would say, biggest pollution problem.

  • 12:31:50

    ELIZAWater pollution that comes off of our streets picks up lots of extra stuff, junk, trash, oils, and then hits our streams and rivers and for which we're spending billions of dollars in D.C. water rate payer and taxpayer money to fix. And so, planting more trees does all the other good things we've already talked about, and it also can help us clean up one of our most intractable kinds of pollution that we have to deal with as we pave more and more of our city.

  • 12:32:17

    ELIZASo, I want to thank you all for your efforts, and it's so exciting to partner with so many of you on projects in Ward 8 and around the city, and also just remind everyone that we're spending real money on real pollution issues that trees can really help.

  • 12:32:31

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Eliza. Here now is Dan in Cheverly, Maryland. Dan, your turn.

  • 12:32:40

    DANThanks, Kojo. It's Dan, and I've worked over the years at KC Trees and with Earl and Brenda. And one of the things I would commend the programs that -- like Nathan is doing and all, and can -- I would think -- I would propose that this be elevated in new, like, Civilian Conservation Corps green jobs programs that Biden is proposing. So, there's a huge problem with invasives in the health of our forests on the public property.

  • 12:33:19

    DANBut another concern is on the private property. So, wow, especially where I live in Prince George's County, we have a lot of important forest patches owned by speculators who are waiting to develop them. They keep them in horrible condition. They are magnets for trash, invasives. Bodies are dumped in them near my home just this winter.

  • 12:33:45

    DANSo, what -- I think it's an atrocity that we allow these properties to be so poorly maintained. By doing that, the public then is welcomed for them to be clear cut and developed, because it's a better condition than they were in. So, how can we make them an asset for the community? What kinds of, you know, incentives or disincentives -- taxes or otherwise -- might we be able to do through policy to improve them?

  • 12:34:17

    NNAMDIWell, let me pile on for a second because, Nathan Harrington, a lot of trash from residents and from companies have ended up in the forests of Ward 8. Why? Why has dumping trash in the forests been allowed for so long? Why is there no one there to stop it? What do you think should be done about it that's similar to the issue that Dan in Cheverly raises?

  • 12:34:37

    HARRINGTONWell, it's a complex issue, actually, and we don't have all the answers to that. I think one big factor is that these woods have simply not been promoted or recognized as places that have value. They've not been made accessible for recreation. So, I think, to some people, they are kind of dead spaces. You have all of these streets that dead end at the woods. And in order to get to the other side you have to walk or drive around and it's kind of inconvenient, but that's it.

  • 12:35:08

    HARRINGTONThere's no signage to say, hey, this is Fort Stanton Park, and there were these Civil War forts here and there were African American communities that formed during the Civil War at these sites. And there's nothing to say, hey, this is a magnolia bog, you know, or this is one of the oldest unpreserved or undisturbed upland forests in the city.

  • 12:35:29

    HARRINGTONAnd I think a big part of that is the lack of trails. I think if it were possible to safely and comfortably take a walk in the woods and if people were actually invited to do that, the way they're seeing it would be different. Clearly, there's a lack of enforcement against dumping. I think a lot of these outside entities, the auto shops and the construction -- people who are dumping construction materials have discovered that this is simply a place where they can do it and not get caught.

  • 12:35:58

    HARRINGTONThere's also, I think, some of the landlords in Ward 8 do not provide adequate waste disposal for their residents. So, you'll see dumpsters that fill up within a few days of being emptied, and then there'll be all sorts of things piled up around the dumpsters. And at a certain point, residents will say, well, instead of putting stuff next to the dumpster where we have to look at it every day and we might have to look at the vermin that it might attract, it's better to just throw it over the fence, from the building, into the woods. And so, we really are working to reach out to the property managers and the waste-hauling companies to hold them accountable for that.

  • 12:36:35

    NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much. Two seemingly slightly different points of view, here. Sharon emails: Would you ask your guests to talk about how important it is to plant native trees rather than non-native imports? Native trees support insects, birds and other wildlife. Then there is Maharul in Springfield, Virginia. Masarul, I should say. Masarul, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:37:04

    MASARULWell, I see a tendency -- I think it is not well thought of -- not to import, bring in foreign trees. All the cherry blossoms that we see in Washington, they're imported. They're (word?). They're not native, but by the same token, if you go to places like Miami, Florida, or other places, there are excellent, excellent foreign trees. And this program, I don't know how it developed. It's the wrong policy not to import foreign trees It's one ward, and there are beautiful plants, people, everything throughout the ward. What's wrong with bringing foreign plants, foreign food, foreign trees, foreign people?

  • 12:37:51

    NNAMDIWell, let's stick with trees for the time being. Earl Eutsler, care to respond to that?

  • 12:37:57

    EUTSLERYeah, so I think those comments really capture the spectrum of how people feel about the native, non-native debate. So, let me to respond. So, we have a native-first policy with tree planting. Most of the trees we plant are native, but there's several things happening here. One, we're often planting trees in an environment that does not replicate the forest that historically exist in these areas. And two, our climate is actually changing.

  • 12:38:27

    EUTSLERSo, within DDOT we're undergoing a comprehensive review of climate adaptation, so that we're selecting trees which may not exist here naturally now, but may exist in another part of the country or different eco region that this region is likely to resemble in the near future. So, you know, examples of some of the trees we've been planting in much higher numbers than previously are things like the black gum or the carpinus caroliniana, the hornbeam.

  • 12:39:28

    EUTSLERAnd so, the considerations we make are to ensure that anything we plant that isn't native also is not an invasive species. So, you can -- there are many trees that may not come from here but also don't displace native vegetation in our forest patches and other areas, which can often make a valuable contribution to the diversity of our urban forests.

  • 12:39:28

    NNAMDILet's bring a little presidential history into this conversation. First Lady Claudia Alta Johnson, known as Lady Bird Johnson, cared deeply about the environment. And in the year 1965, Congress passed the highway beautification act known as Lady Bird's Bill. Here's a clip from "Showcase For the Nation," the story of Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson's beautification program, courtesy of the LBJ Library.

  • 12:39:55

    LADY BIRD JOHNSONBeautification, to my mind, is far more than a matter of cosmetics. To me, it describes the whole effort to bring the natural world and the manmade world into harmony, to bring order, usefulness, delight to our whole environment.

  • 12:40:14

    NNAMDILady Bird Johnson. Earl Eutsler, what did -- what affect did Lady Bird Johnson and her bill have on the beautification of Washington, D.C.?

  • 12:40:23

    EUTSLERYeah, I think some of her most prominent accomplishments were the creation of pocket parks. And the thing that -- when I think of Lady Bird Johnson's beautification efforts, it strikes me as dovetailing so well with the original plan L'Enfant laid out that created the (unintelligible)...

  • 12:40:44

    NNAMDIOh, oh.

  • 12:40:45

    EUTSLER...spaces. But then it was also reaffirmed by Boss Shepherd in the 1860s with the planting of thousands of trees when we became the City of Trees. And then that built further with the McMillan plan that established the mall and the Fort Circle parks. And her efforts built on all of those to create a livable city, a livable community that fostered human wellbeing.

  • 12:41:11

    NNAMDIHere now is Kit in Arlington, Virginia. Kit, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:41:15

    KITThank you, Kojo. Thank you for a wonderful and important panel. I just wanted to build on the comment about stormwater. Trees are a natural bulwark against flooding by preventing rain, in the first place, from even reaching the ground, but then also the roots sucking up so much water. We're really overlooking a natural ally in preventing flooding, which is an emerging catastrophe here in Arlington, but really throughout the DMV. So, I hope maybe the panelists have some ideas on how we encourage homeowners, as well as public officials, to make more clear that link between trees and preventing flooding, as well as mitigating climate change. Thank you so much.

  • 12:41:56

    NNAMDIWell, you're right. That point has already been made on the broadcast, and all of our guests are keenly aware of it. So, here now is Carol in Washington, D.C. Carol, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:42:08

    CAROLYes. My question has to do with the fact that sometimes, for street trees in neighborhoods, the city seems to be planting very, very large trees like metasequoias. And I'm wondering why they are choosing such large trees. It seems to me that they might not survive.

  • 12:42:35

    NNAMDIEarl Eutsler?

  • 12:42:37

    EUTSLERYeah, okay, great question. So, again, going back a decade or longer, we have adopted a policy that we refer to as right tree, right place. And, many times, people think that means we simply don't plant tall stature trees under overhead utility wires, overhead powerlines. And while that's true and probably marked the biggest departure from the status quo of how trees were planted, the other side of that coin is that where adequate space both above and below ground exists for a large stature tree, well, then it's our -- we consider that to be the right tree in that right place.

  • 12:43:11

    EUTSLERAnd so, metasequoia has been a very valuable addition to the trees we're planting. We're planting over 8,000 trees a year and using a variety of over 120 different species and cultivars. So, ensuring we use a diverse pallet means that we're insulting against various threats to the system from pest and disease in the future by not having an overreliance on any one species.

  • 12:43:36

    EUTSLERNow, I also just wanted to briefly go back to the comments made by some of our callers about trees as a tool for stormwater. And just to say that trees truly are assets. And unlike every other asset that we build and construct in our modern society, trees are the only asset that actually appreciate overtime. And so, whereas a bridge is never better than when it's first built, a tree gets more valuable, more productive, more beautiful and provides more services to us as the public the longer it lives and the older it grows. I just wanted to share that, as well.

  • 12:44:14

    NNAMDISure. Stella in D.C. emails: I appreciate your question, Kojo, about more of us getting out of area parks to support during COVID. Brenda's response was prescient. In my part of D.C., many of us are benefitting from access to Rock Creek Park. You'd think it was a nature party. In neighborhoods east of the river, residents need support and better access to their parks so that they can reap nature's benefits. I think we need more of a welcoming culture to nature in historically underserved neighborhoods.

  • 12:44:42

    NNAMDIBrenda Richardson, Ward 8 will soon be getting a new public park, the city's first elevated park which will perch over the Anacostia River. Talk about the 11th Street Bridge project and the importance of it.

  • 12:44:55

    RICHARDSONOh, that's just such a wonderful project. I think the beauty of the 11th Street Bridge is that it not only offers the amenities for recreation on a bridge, but it also very nicely connects Ward 8 to Ward 6. They've been working on this for quite some time, and I think it's just beautiful, if you've seen the renderings. And it's just a great opportunity for us to be connected and recreate together.

  • 12:45:30

    NNAMDIWell, the 11th Street bridge park, however, has sparked concerns about increasing the gentrification already occurring in Anacostia by pricing out the very people you'd like to see benefit from this park. What do you think can be done to address that?

  • 12:45:44

    RICHARDSONWell, one of the things that they've done is they've -- and I can share this because I've -- this all started when I was in Councilmember Barry's office. And they did go out and talk to the community in Ward 8 and address the concerns. And I think they've established some sort of community trust so that people that are in Anacostia don't get gentrified out of the neighborhood. So, to their credit, I applaud them for taking the gentrification issue very seriously and coming up with a creative way to address it.

  • 12:46:23

    NNAMDINathan Harrington, let's get back to the woods of Ward 8. What are your hopes for the hundreds of acres of forested parkland in Ward 8? What do you envision it could become? We only have about a minute left.

  • 12:46:33

    HARRINGTONThank you. Well, our motto is healing the land, empowering people. We people that those two go together. We're providing jobs to people that need them, particularly folks unemployed and Ward 8 residents who have barriers to employment, such as criminal history and disability.

  • 12:46:52

    HARRINGTONAnd by connecting those people with the land, giving them meaningful work and income, we are undoing the decades of neglect, and we are moving into trail work. We're preparing a proposal to the D.C. Recreational Trails Committee to build a trail through the woods on the north side of Suitland Parkway, which is a really beautiful area that is just...

  • 12:47:14


  • 12:47:15

    HARRINGTON...for all intents and purposes, closed to the public. And we think that will enable...

  • 12:47:18

    NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid...

  • 12:47:19 the opportunity for environmental education programs.

  • 12:47:22

    NNAMDIAfraid that's all the time we have. Nathan Harrington, Brenda Richardson, Earl Eutsler, thank you all for joining us. Today's show on D.C.'s street canopy was produced by Kirk Gardinier. Coming up tomorrow, thousands of Trump supporters plan to rally in D.C. this week to protest the results of the presidential election. We'll talk with a reporter on the ground.

  • 12:47:41

    NNAMDIThen a history of racial bias in medicine makes many black Americans wary of the COVID vaccine, a recent report saying that less than half of black adults plan to get it. We'll talk about what it will mean for a population hit hard by the coronavirus. That all starts at noon, tomorrow. Until then, thank you for listening and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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