Dayton losing tree cover

Dayton has lost 40 percent of tree cover since 1982

Dayton has lost about 43 percent of its tree cover on public property since 1982, but city staff hope to help prevent further depletion and restore the canopy through new zoning rules.

Dayton’s tree loss stems from pest infestation, disease, age and poor tree-trimming practices by utility crews, city officials said.

City staff propose amending Dayton’s zoning code to discourage the planting of trees beneath overhead power lines, require developers to diversify the tree species they plant and prohibit the planting of vulnerable and hazardous types of plants.

Trees cover about 29 percent of the city, and intervention is needed to stop and reverse further loss, staff said.

Officials said ideally trees would cover about half of Dayton. But potentially it could cost millions of dollars to restore the tree population to early 1980s levels.

“We have a tree problem: we need to reforest the city,” said Jon White, a city of Dayton planner.

In 1982, the city of Dayton conducted an inventory of trees in public rights-of-way and identified 59,951 street trees.

The city is in the process of taking inventory of trees on public property and has finished counts in 16 of 65 neighborhoods.

Based on that data, the city forecasts it has about 33,508 trees in public spaces, which is down 43 percent from 1982.

On average, it costs the city about $250 for every tree it plants.

At that price, adding 26,443 trees — how many it could take to get back to the 1982 count — would cost more than $6.6 million. However, the city has developed tree farms that reduce reforesting costs.

Dayton spent $372,200 last year on tree management and $438,000 in 2014, said Fred Stovall, the city’s director of public works.

Urban tree canopies have numerous benefits such as providing shade to reduce summer temperatures and increasing property values, said Tyler Stevenson, urban forestry coordinator with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ division of forestry.

Trees assist with carbon sequestration and storage and improve air quality by removing pollutants through the leaves, lowering air temperatures and reducing emissions from energy use, officials said.

Trees planted near homes and buildings can reduce energy consumption as well as the amount of water entering the storm sewers, said Jun-Ki Choi, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and renewable and clean energy with the University of Dayton.

“More is better,” he said.

Last year, Choi’s students calculated the canopy rate of 30 Dayton neighborhoods. Trees cover about 29 percent of the city, according to city estimates, but some neighborhoods lag far behind that.

Neighborhoods with minimal canopy coverage included downtown Dayton (8.4 percent coverage), Five Points (10.2 percent), Carillon (11.2 percent), Edgemont (15.8 percent), Arlington Heights (16.5 percent) and Burkhardt (17.4 percent).

Neighborhoods on the opposite end of the spectrum included Germantown Meadows (52.2 percent coverage), Deweese (48.4 percent), Highview Hills (48.1 percent) and Cornell Heights (41.2 percent).

The city wants to replenish the supply of street trees in part through new plantings.

The city planted 175 trees in 2012 and 360 in 2014. It did not plant any trees in 2013 and 2015, but hopes to do so later this year.

The city also is looking at changing Dayton’s zoning regulations to curb tree deaths. One proposal is to explicitly discourage the planting of trees under power lines.

Trees too close to power lines are a common cause of power outages, and Dayton Power & Light contractors routinely remove vegetation located within 10 feet of utility poles, the company said.

DP&L trims its entire 10,600 mile system on a five-year cycle and trimming is done to species specifications.

“DP&L strives to adhere to industry standards and in accordance with the National Arborists Association and International Society of Arboriculture’s recommended standards,” the company said in a statement.

However, some city staff and members of the Dayton Plan Board have been critical of DP&L’s tree trimming practices.

“Poor is not the adequate word here,” said David Bohardt, a member of the Dayton Plan Board. “How about socially irresponsible?”

The city proposes following DP&L guidelines for street trees by requiring they be planted at least 10 feet away from overhead wires. If that standard cannot be met — for instance because a parcel is too small — the proposed code revisions would allow trees to be planted in a nearby street right-of-way or park.

Also, a proposed zoning rule says development projects that are required to plant eight or more trees will have to use at least two tree species and comply with a ratio standard of 3-to-2.

Species diversity will help minimize the impact of tree diseases and pest infestations. Diversity ensures the trees are less susceptible to being completely wiped out, officials said.

Staff also propose replacing a recommended tree species list with a list of prohibited tree species that includes ash, silver maple, mulberry and poplar trees.

The city estimates it needs to remove about 1,980 ash trees because of the Emerald Ash Borer, an invasive beetle that feeds on tissues beneath the bark that kills the trees.

Staff expect to present the Dayton Plan Board with official zoning language changes next month. The city commission would have to approve any changes recommended by the board.

The optimal tree canopy would be 50 percent of Dayton, said Kevin McKinney, district supervisor with the city.

“It’s something to shoot for,” he said.

Declining tree cover is not unique to Dayton. Communities across the state and country have experienced large declines in their urban tree canopies.

Many trees in Dayton are located on private property, and the city hopes it can work with private property owners to reverse tree deaths, officials said.

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