Monday, June 17, 2024

Study argues Wilmington needs to do more to protect urban trees

Greenspace in Wilmington is disappearing; from storms to development tree canopy is at risk with is why the city has partnered with the Green Infrastructure Center to see what can be done to help preserve trees in Wilmington.

The City of Wilmington has only about 11.5-percent tree canopy cover in its downtown districts (Port City Daily/Michael Praats)
The City of Wilmington has only about 11.5-percent tree canopy cover in its downtown districts. (Port City Daily/Michael Praats)

WILMINGTON — Preserving trees in Wilmington has been a hot topic for residents over the past several years as more and more developments replace what little greenspace is left in the city. The City of Wilmington was one of two cities in the state selected to participate in an urban tree canopy study conducted in six southern states.

The study has been an ongoing effort between the city and Green Infrastructure Center (GIC), the city’s partner in conducting the study and on Monday, results were presented to the council.

“It began because we started to notice that cities were losing trees, especially during the more severe storms that we have had, and yet not having a sense of how many trees they had or the values they were providing,” GIC Executive Director Karen Firehock said.

Water Street looking north toward Market Street during Hurricane Matthew. (Port City Daily file photo)
Water Street looking north toward Market Street during Hurricane Matthew. (Port City Daily file photo)

One of the major problems the city faces is stormwater flooding especially with its proximity to the Cape Fear River. Hurricane Florence and other big storms have demonstrated just how bad urban flooding can get in Wilmington.

Because of Wilmington’s historic nature, much of the development predates clean water requirements so finding a way to address runoff is important.

“One statistic is an acre of pavement produces 36-times more runoff than a forest. Another way to look at it is if it rains 1-inch, a forest will have 750-gallons of runoff — a parking lot will produce 27,000-gallons,” Firehock said.

According to GIC, looking at trees as “green infrastructure” can help mitigate some of the problems and also provide plenty of other benefits to the city.

So what are the other benefits? According to Firehock, communities with more trees have less crime — apartment buildings with high levels of green landscaping have up to 52-percent less crime.

A tree canopy map of the City of Wilmington (Port City Daily/Courtesy GIC)
A tree canopy map of the City of Wilmington (Port City Daily/Courtesy GIC)

It’s also good for business, shoppers are more likely to spend more money in cities with tree-lined streets, approximately 9-12-percent more.

The project also produced a city-wide tree canopy map, a first for Wilmington.

Unsurprisingly, the Wilmington downtown districts have the lowest density of tree canopy with 11.1-11.7-percent in the Upper Downtown and Historic Downtown areas respectively.

The Masonboro region has the highest density on the map with 66.3-percent.

Community input

The study by GIC didn’t rely strictly on academics, it also hosted a community input meeting where residents were given a chance to have their voices, and concerns heard.

The main concerns of the community include:

  • Increase the urban forestry management budget.
  • Assign a GIS person (mapping) to Parks/Forestry.
  • Maintain canopy (48.2 % in the historic district, 50% in the city).
  • Increase enforcement staff to fulfill ordinance.
  • Require tree risk assessments of public trees.
  • Allow credit for tree planting to reduce stormwater utility fee.
  • Allow/install roadside bioswales with trees.
  • Develop an emergency plan to replant trees after storms.

GIC also acknowledged the city is not spending enough money to maintain a healthy and thriving urban forest.

“Currently, due to budget restraints, tree maintenance is reactive only. Performing proactive tree maintenance
can reduce tree damage to property or grey infrastructure,” according to the presentation.

It was also suggested the city hire additional staff to conduct tree protection inspections and other tree-related assignments.

A final report will be completed by GIC comparing the findings of all of the cities studied and will be ready by the end of the month.


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