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King CD Efforts Aim to Improve Tree Canopy Numbers

As part of King Conservation District (KCD)’s interlocal agreement with King County, funding and staff time has been set aside to support urban forest health programming in municipalities throughout King County to address tree canopy decline in Washington and the inequitable distribution of urban forests and the benefits that they provide.

“We’ve been able to give the outside technical support to extend traditional reach and work in backyards, public easements and parks and open spaces,” said Ellen Arnstein, KCD Forest Stewardship Program Manager. “We’re building close relationships; we’re proud to call our member jurisdictions partners.”

According to the King County 30-Year Forest Plan, data showed a decline in tree canopy in cities from 23 percent to 18 percent over the past 24 years. Though it could take years to significantly increase the canopy, KCD’s 2017 assessment will be updated for 2022 to determine whether efforts – including the urban forest program – have had any impact.

The natural resource conservation interlocal agreement between King County and the district initially was implemented in 2015, when county leaders decided to devote funding to KCD through the county’s tax levy. This next round runs through 2024, with $150,000 annually committed to the district specifically for urban forest stewardship for member jurisdictions identifying and implementing tree canopy projects.

Since 2015, the district has assisted with or implemented 19 projects and partnered with 31 of the 34 municipalities in the county – more than double the goal set for the first five years.

“One of the things we’ve done is reach out to all of our jurisdictions in the county – and they are all different, different sizes, different staffing numbers – so we meet them where they are,” said Arnstein, who coordinates the urban forest program.

In 2020, the first of this second series of funding, COVID restrictions barred any movement to approve plans, so in 2021, pending board approval, $300,000 will be allocated to eight projects representing the next steps in KCD’s conservation and tree canopy work.

The majority of cities have now done a tree canopy assessment, so the most requested projects have leaned toward addressing canopy concerns with tree planting/tree giveaway programs and doing an inventory of individual park street trees to pinpoint planting locations and health management next steps,” she said.

This year, part of the project selection process included developing criteria to prioritize projects that commit to BIPOC communities and traditionally underserved locations or address accessibility to speakers of other languages or persons with limited mobility, Arnstein said.

Some projects are in the process of developing a carbon credit program that areas with fewer resources available may be able to utilize as well, she said. Stormwater fees have also been examined as another source of funding.

Completed and initiated projects since 2015 include:

  • Forest health analysis, stewardship planning and volunteer programming in cooperation with several community partners over 1,200 acres of public and private forest open space
  • Citywide tree canopy assessment with analysis of land cover data for land use and other geographies, a stormwater benefits analysis, and online canopy planner software, available at https://pg-cloud.com/KingCD-Cities/
  • Calculation of ecosystem services of the urban forest as it relates to stormwater mitigation services
  • A “backyard stewardship” pilot to engage private property owners adjacent to forested restoration sites to empower them to manage their portion of the urban forest
  • Programming to train and support homeowner’s associations and residents in restoring and managing their neighborhood forested open spaces
  • Invasive plant removal and native plant restoration with both WA Conservation Crew and volunteer participation

As managed growth concentrates development within the urban growth boundary, healthy urban forests, tree canopies and street trees become even more necessary. KCD is working to increase the urban tree canopy resilience and capture the ecological, recreational and other values of green infrastructure by helping residents and landowners actively manage urban trees in yards and public open spaces.

The district also hosts a web-based planning software, PlanItGeo’s Tree Plotter Canopy, that its member jurisdictions can use to visualize their data. More than 15 have had their tree canopy assessed, which will help support planning, community development and urban forest management in those areas.

Other potential urban forest stewardship projects that KCD could support include tree inventory and risk assessments; street tree improvements such as tree guards, bioswale installation, structural soil, and air-spading; volunteer program development; diversity and equity efforts; wood utilization and/or firewood banking; carbon credits; forest health monitoring; and tree ordinance development.

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