Jacksonville's Tree Giveaway

By Brown, Peggy Ann | American Forests, Autumn 2007 | Go to article overview

Jacksonville's Tree Giveaway


Brown, Peggy Ann, American Forests


This Florida city needs a way to meet federal water quality regs. Could the answer be growing right in front of them?

Thinking about all the pipes, culverts, and cement needed to manage stormwater in Jacksonville, Florida, city official Susie Wiles is convinced there has to be a better way to meet federal water quality regulations.

The answer, she suspects, may be growing right before her eyes.

Jacksonville is closely aligned with water. Bordered by the Atlantic coastline, its moniker-River City-comes from its proximity to the state's longest river, the north-flowing Saint Johns. But with those watery blessings come challenges.

"Because we're at the end of the river, all the nutrients and pollutants flow to us," says Wiles, chief of communications and special initiatives. And that makes it difficult for the city to comply with federal Clean Water Act regulations.

With its national pollutant discharge permit up for renewal this year and a new master stormwater plan in the works, Wiles is hoping more trees can replace more concrete as a way of meeting water quality standards. Called TDMLs-Total Maximum Daily Load-these standards dictate the maximum amount of pollutants that can be released into a body of water. Compliance is overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency and Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Wiles began researching tree plantings as an alternative to built structures. The pollutant discharge permit covers stormwater collection operations, including storm drains, roadways, and detention ponds associated with the system, as well as discharge facilities.

Under the permit process, EPA will recognize increasing tree canopy in combination with other efforts under its Best Management Practices requirement in certain circumstances; in April of this year it affirmed the value of so-called green infrastructure "as both a cost effective and an environmentally preferable approach to reduce stormwater. . . " Jacksonville wants to use tree cover to reduce stormwater runoff carrying pollutants into local water bodies.

To encourage tree plantings-and the pollution control benefits that go with a larger tree canopy-Jacksonville hopes to launch the Great Greenscape Tree Giveaways. The four-year campaign would distribute 400,000 trees for planting on city, commercial, and residential properties. The mayor's office will seek City Council approval for the program.

URBAN EXPANSION

Wiles credits AMERICAN FORESTS with providing background information that helped inform the campaign. By the year 2000, Jacksonville was experiencing the same rapid development as other Sunbelt cities. This growth, coupled with a new tree ordinance, drew it to AMERICAN FORESTS; the collaboration began with a 2004 Urban Ecosystem Analysis (UEA) conducted by the association for the city.

"We didn't have the ability to know in the aggregate what kind of deforestation was going on," says Wiles, "but we knew everywhere we looked, trees were coming down. AMERICAN FORESTS' analysis provided the tools to help us understand what was happening to our community."

At 843 square miles, Jacksonville has the largest land area of any city in the contiguous United States. With more than 800,000 residents. Jacksonville, which consolidated with Duval County in 1968, ranks 14th in population in the U.S. Land use ranges from a densely populated, densely built urban core and suburban outer ring to rural oceanfront and Timucuan Preserve, a national park with wetlands comprising 75 percent of its 46,000 acres.

AMERICAN FORESTS' UEA documented land cover changes from 1992 to 2002 and detailed the city's green infrastructure and its value. Landsat Satellite imagery showed that over the 10 years Jacksonville had lost 12.4 percent of its forest and woody wetlands, with developed urban areas increasing by 16.4 percent. Overall, tree decline resulted in a loss of 56 million cubic feet of stormwater retention capacity, valued at $113 million. …

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