Written by Sarah Fligel
When newcomers arrive to Charlotte, one of the first things many notice are the trees. Just a stroll down Queens Road West will have you looking up for multiple miles. We are a city with plenty of green, boasting a tree canopy – or the area shaded by trees – of 45 percent. But that number is shrinking much faster than TreesCharlotte would like.
Every day, Charlotte loses over three football fields worth of trees, according to the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute. A recent study by the University of Vermont and TreesCharlotte found that the percentage of trees covering the city fell from 49 percent in 2012 to 45 percent in 2018. “You walk outside and see the city, and you see tons of trees,” says Jen Rothacker, community engagement officer for TreesCharlotte. “But there is truly an alarming loss of trees every year. One percent of trees a year equals 100,000 trees. And that is enormous … you take down one tree, and it took 20 years to develop. You can’t instantly replace it.”
Educating Charlotte about the importance of a strong tree canopy and actively working to protect and build it is part of TreesCharlotte’s mission. Founded in 2012, the nonprofit public/private collaboration has planted or given away more than 35,000 trees and engaged more than 18,000 volunteers. And with the pandemic, the group is poised to use people’s time at home to its advantage.
TreesCharlotte will host a record 13 community TreeStores in 2020-21, where Charlotte residents can register and drive up to load up to two trees in their cars. Participants select their species of trees in advance, choosing between flowering, evergreen and large canopy ones. Each 1 to 2 year-old tree comes in a seven-gallon container, measures five to 10 feet tall, and includes a bag of mulch. After each event, TreesCharlotte sends a video link on how to plant and care for the tree. The goal: Anyone who wants a tree this season should be able to get one.
In September, the TreeStores gave away 400 trees, with registration selling out in just four hours. Two of the stores this season are limited to TreesCharlotte newcomers, two are open to anyone who lives in Charlotte, and the remaining are zip code specific. The season runs through late March.
The group also partners with qualifying neighborhoods, schools, houses of faith, athletic associations and other nonprofit organizations to host tree-planting and tree-giveaway events through its NeighborWoods program. Since the events are held outside, TreesCharlotte has found ways to socially distance its volunteers and take safe precautions to continue its work. This season, 5,600 trees are scheduled to be planted and distributed, according to Rothacker.
While a significant portion of Charlotte’s reduction in tree canopy can be attributed to development, individual property owners also play a part. Trees may be lost to home renovations, storms, age or disease. Replacing them – and helping residents understand the importance of why – is a major goal for TreesCharlotte.
Besides their beauty, trees improve the air we breathe, save electricity, mitigate storm runoff, filter our water and lower temperatures. Neighborhoods with trees have even been linked to less crime and lower childhood obesity, Rothacker says.
“It really makes a difference in the way we live and the way we enjoy our neighborhood,” she says. “It is a civic covenant to plant a tree. You are improving all of Charlotte when you do that.”
TreesCharlotte works closely with the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. Executive Director Chuck Cole serves on the advisory council for the city’s new Tree Canopy Action Plan, a document that will complement the city’s new 2040 Comprehensive Plan. TreesCharlotte vision is 50 percent canopy coverage for Charlotte by 2050. It's one that can’t be achieved without new tree regulations that not only govern developers, but private landowners, the city and businesses as well. “Once you lose canopy, it will take decades and decades to rebuild,” Rothacker says. “This is dire.”
VOTE NOW: Trees Charlotte is in the running to win $5K this month thanks to the Amy and Brian France Foundation who have partnered with SHARE Charlotte for this year’s Spotlight Series and YOU can help when you VOTE NOW! You can also check out the other organizations eligible to win this month’s prize, here!
Visit www.treescharlotte.org to learn how to support TreesCharlotte.