Urban Tree Canopy

Isaac Wang
Oct 24 · 3 min read

What is an urban tree canopy?

From the USDA Forest Service:

Urban Tree Canopy (UTC) refers to the layer of tree leaves, branches, and stems that provide tree coverage of the ground when viewed from above. Today, many communities are planting trees in an effort to become more sustainable and livable. Improving a city’s urban tree canopy can have numerous benefits, including reducing summer peak temperatures and air pollution, enhancing property values, providing wildlife habitat, providing aesthetic benefits, and improving social ties among neighbors. A robust tree canopy can also attract businesses and residents.

Pic from USDA Forest Service

San Diego needs a lot more trees, especially the type that provides a canopy. The difference is stark between older neighborhoods (think Golden Hill) vs newer suburban neighborhoods. The lack of trees is especially noticeable in my district (D5).

Personally, I find places with tree canopies to be noticeably cooler during the summer. In places with urban heat islands, the tree canopy provides relief.

I’ve linked the current Urban Forestry Program: 5 year plan.

If you wanted to nerd out on ArcGis: View our tree canopy here.

The City of San Diego added one Urban Forester within the past few years. That’s one person for a huge city with little funding allocated.

When it comes to planting and maintaining trees in our region there are some key areas to address:

  1. Workforce development to properly train folks how & when to plant trees
  2. Community education on benefits of trees, cost, & frequency of watering
  3. Funding and public-private partnerships to get it done.

Tree San Diego and the City have relied heavily on CALFIRE grants to plant and water trees. We should do more as a City. There is a huge opportunity for jobs, reduction in energy use, and increased quality of life. The two biggest gaps I see are lack of watering comprehension and lack of trees planted on private property.

Does planting more trees make neighborhoods more susceptible to fire?

I thought this ought to be addressed. The short answer is: It does if they aren’t maintained and the trees fall on power lines. That is how many of the recent fires started up-and-down the state. So what should we do?

Step 1: defensible space around all structures

Step 2: maintain trees properly, and promptly remove dead or dying trees, which become fire fuel

Step 3: Get rid of investor owned utilities

Also, read this: Want to Fireproof your house?

I will ensure the Urban Forestry program gets increased funding, staffing time, and effort. San Diego needs to generate a strong long-range plan to achieve stated goals.

We should look at examples of places that have done it well: Sacramento has excellent programs of tree giveaways. They mastered planting trees and shifting community consciousness.

We also have to look introspectively at our personal relationships with trees. As a kid, I thought it was odd that my dad grew trees and vegetables in our backyard, until I realized other Chinese families did this as well. There’s an established internal relationship with nature that my dad inherited from his childhood.

I hope our tree culture and best practices become something worth passing down to future generations.

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