by Pat Kasdan
Casey Trees is a DC nonprofit founded by Betty Brown Casey on 2002, in memory of her husband, who had loved trees. Its mission is “To restore, enhance and protect the tree canopy of the nation’s capital.”
The District’s tree canopy covered approximately 50 percent of the city in 1950, but had dropped to 35 percent by 2011. Casey Trees’ goal is to increase that canopy to 40 percent by 2032. So far it has planted over 25,000 new trees, increasing the canopy to 38 percent. In addition, Casey Trees supports tree planting by the DC and federal governments, advocates for green development projects, and educates residents about trees.
The nonprofit also teaches people how to advocate for the trees. The potential destruction of 371 trees in Soapstone Valley Park to repair its 108-year-old sewers moved me to sign up for a training session last year.
The Casey workshop, “Advocacy in the District,” is offered twice a year. It aims to prepare attendees to navigate the intricacies of the District government in order to advocate more effectively for trees, especially at oversight and budget hearings, but also at local ANC meetings.
When I took the workshop last year, the instructors began by having each of us find and record our ward (3), advisory neighborhood commission (ANC 3F), single member district (for me 04), Council member (Mary Cheh), ANC commissioner (Leah Frelinghuysen for 3F04), and the date and place of ANC meetings (third Tuesdays, Windows Lounge, Building 38, UDC, 4200 Connecticut Avenue NW).
Next we learned the District’s political hierarchy, from mayor and Council chair through Council members to committee chairs. Especially important to Casey Trees are chairs of the Committees on Transportation and the Environment (Mary Cheh) and Health (Vincent Gray). Also important are the directors of the following DC departments:
- Tommy Wells, Energy and Environment (DOEE)
- Keith Anderson, General Services (DGS)
- Delano Hunter, Parks and Recreation (DPR)
- Jeff Marootian, Transportation (DDOT), especially the Urban Forestry Division (UFD)
- Andrew Trueblood, Office of Planning (OP)
- Sara Benjamin Bardin, Office of Zoning (OZ)
We learned the DC Council’s Urban Forest Preservation Act, passed in 2002 and amended in 2016, designates trees with a girth of 44 to 99 inches as “special,” requiring a permit to remove (unless they are invasive or hazardous). Those trees measuring 100 or more inches around are “heritage,” and need an exemption from the mayor to remove (again, unless invasive or hazardous). Unfortunately, some developers prefer to pay large fines than to comply with this law.
After a tasty vegan lunch, trainers presented on several DC government initiatives. The Comprehensive Plan is a 10-year blueprint for development currently under revision. Sustainable DC 2.0 aims to plant 10,500 trees annually. Resilient DC is a strategy for thriving in the face of climate change. Climate Ready DC has proactive measures for confronting climate change, e.g., green buildings to counter the “urban heat island effect” (higher temperatures with little vegetation). And DDOT’s $108.6 million operating budget for 2020 includes a $252,000 increase for the Urban Forestry Division, and $70.2 million over the next six years to plant and maintain green infrastructure.
Our final exam was to prepare and deliver testimony to a mock council hearing or ANC meeting. We read and analyzed a situation calling for advocacy, wrote testimony advocating a particular solution and presented it to a panel of two Casey certified tree advocates. They provided useful feedback. My group tackled the aftermath of a fictional future drought that had killed 25 percent of the District’s trees. We provided testimony about how to replant trees that would survive future droughts. We were given the following guidelines:
- Start with why we care about replacing lost trees and why it should matter to our audience, e.g., “My neighborhood has always been cool and comfortable until the drought killed our shade trees; you and all D.C. residents have suffered the same loss.”
- Back it up with specific recommendations about how to accomplish the replacement goal, e.g., “We recommend replacing lost trees with drought-resistant species, so this will not happen again.”
- State what data support our suggestions and what impact they might have, e.g., “Research on drought-resistant trees has shown that they provide all the health and energy benefits of other species without vulnerability to extreme dry weather.”
The entire advocacy training was enlightening. I learned about how this city works and how individuals can influence significant issues.
The Casey Trees advocacy training is given twice a year. The dates will be posted at caseytrees.org/events. Sign up for the Casey Trees newsletter, the Leaflet, for notices about these and other opportunities to volunteer and learn. And to hear about these events before anyone, become a member.
As for the Soapstone Valley trees, I learned that the National Park Service had consulted with Casey Trees on a plan to restore the landscape after sewers are repaired.