- The Washington Times - Friday, July 26, 2002

Once known as the "City of Trees," the District is now struggling to keep its once-abundant tree canopy intact. Scenes like those in Southeast are becoming increasingly common, where tall American elms once lined the city streets have been replaced by smaller, immature trees trying to survive.

Dutch elm disease and ongoing drought conditions have become the primary enemies of the District's trees. More than 100,000 trees line city streets and yards, less than 40 percent of its tree canopy in 1973. The diminishing tree supply not only hurts the city's aesthetics, but also compounds problems such as poor air quality, a common occurrence this summer, officials said.

"Trees are not a luxury, they are something we need," said Barbara Deutsch, the spokeswoman for the Garden Club of America Casey Trees Foundation, a nonprofit organization currently performing an inventory on the District's street tree canopy.

The foundation, along with D.C. government, is performing the inventory to help the city's Urban Forestry Administration's maintenance efforts on the tree canopy. Volunteers scour the city's streets using sophisticated technology to gather data and information on the trees and the more than 38,000 vacant planting spaces. The inventory also helps in identifying problem areas and endangered trees, in addition to educating the public on the importance of trees to the city.

"This is a great asset for the city and we must invest in it," Miss Deutsch said.

Carl Reeverts, one of the foundation's inventory volunteers, said many residents often express concern over the deteriorating health of their neighborhood trees.

"A lot of people have been there since they were planted," said Mr. Reeverts, an 18-year-old Southeast resident. "They've been there since the trees were babies and want to take care of them."

The city's tree canopy also can have a tremendous economic effect on the District. If the city does not meet its air-quality standards, it could lose more than $115 million in federal highway funding. In addition, Miss Deutsch said, cleaner air also helps prevent other air-quality issues such as asthma.

According to data from the National Weather Service, from September 2001 until June 2002, the city's rainfall totaled only about 19 inches, less than 60 percent of its normal total. In July, the District has seen just under 1.5 inches, about 55 percent of normal.

Trees need about an inch of water a week during the growing season. Foresters suggest watering trees if they do not receive the necessary water through rainfall. To conserve water during a drought, mulch can be planted around the tree to contain moisture. Hydrated trees also repel insect growth.

Foresters also warn against using fertilizers and herbicides during a drought. Fertilizers promote growth the tree cannot sustain and herbicides may put extra stress on trees if not used properly.

New trees, like the 6,000 planted by the city last year, need more water to survive in their first three years than other trees. Ongoing drought conditions make it more difficult for the trees to adapt to their urban environment.

According to Mark Buscaino, the administration's chief forester, the city's service requests for tree work have risen dramatically in the past three years. In 2000, his department received about 2,000 tree-service requests. In 2001, it doubled to 4,000, and so far this year, the administration has received about 5,500 requests. Mr. Buscaino said gradually the city is strengthening its tree canopy.

"We're chipping away at it and that's all we can do," Mr. Buscaino said.

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