As cities look for ways to address the forecasted effects of climate change, trees are taking root as a major solution to what can be done to limit global warming and protect local economies. The City of Kansas City, Missouri, has joined in this effort with the formation of its first-ever Tree Champions group, which launched in March.
KCMO’s Tree Champions group has been tasked with developing a written strategic master plan for preserving and restoring Kansas City’s urban forest. The City, Bridging The Gap and Mid-America Regional Council are leading the effort, and the group comprises 60 members including city staff, local business leaders and community leaders convened at the invitation of Kansas City Mayor Sly James.
The group is currently conducting data analysis of Kansas City’s existing tree canopy, research and public outreach and will begin plan development in July, with a final plan presentation scheduled for November 16.
Utilizing the results from a 2010 urban tree canopy (UTC) assessment conducted in Kansas City, the group will be able to see by neighborhood where the greatest potential is for increasing tree canopy (A UTC assessment is an analysis of the amount of tree canopy that covers an area, as seen from aerial photos during summer months when leaves are on trees.)
Overall, the study showed KCMO had a 32% tree canopy in 2010, with the maximum potential for 60% coverage. The City suspects that, eight years later, today’s percentage might be lower due to a severe drought in 2012 and the fact that the area hadn’t yet begun to suffer tree loss from the emerald ash borer at the time of the study. The Tree Champions were pleased to see a good tree age and species distribution throughout the city as well as equal coverage between low-income and higher income areas.
Trees in KCMO provide over $28 million in benefits and services to residents and businesses each year – some of which for businesses include reduced cooling costs (trees shade buildings), employees who are calmer and happier, increased pulmonary health for employees, higher real estate values, and assistance with stormwater management (trees soak up rainwater).
Kansas City’s industrial areas hold a lot of potential for increased canopy and the resulting economic, environmental and social benefits. According to the UTC assessment, the Blue Valley Industrial District has 17% tree canopy with a maximum potential canopy of 55%. The Northeast Industrial District has 13% tree canopy with a potential of 33%.
The Tree Champions group recognizes that partnerships with area businesses and homeowners will be key to increasing the city’s overall tree canopy – typically, 80 to 90 percent of land within a city is privately owned.