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Fairfax Adopts Action Plan to Preserve, Enhance County’s Tree Canopy

Northern Virginia forests are thankfully not in short supply. In Fairfax County, however, major work is underway to no longer take them for granted.

The county’s Board of Supervisors, took a bold step earlier this year by unanimously adopting an environmental blueprint. And with it, the trees have moved to the core of the local government’s agenda.

The Tree Action Plan 2019 (TAP) has called on all Fairfax residents as well as relevant bodies to join in a collective effort to preserve and enhance the county’s tree canopy. In doing so, it has identified the challenges ahead and offered recommendations on how to overcome them.

A New, Holistic Approach to Urban Forest

It is now almost common knowledge that trees have many benefits for the humankind. They improve air quality, manage the quantity and quality of storm water; help rebuild soil as well as store carbon, an essential element for all forms of life.

The 39-page plan, however, features a holistic approach to trees that exist in and around human habitats. In doing so, it revises an earlier document the Board adopted in 2006.

“We now think of the urban forest as an ecosystem; a collection of living and non-living components, with a set of relationships between and among those components,” it says.

It also details the need for an update to the regulatory framework as well as mind-blowing scientific advancements since 2006.

In 2006, ten-meter pixels were the standard for aerial or satellite imagery. Today the standard is one meter or less. There is also now new data at hand to study.

The goal remains the same: to leave our land, water and air quality better than we found it.

Terrific News on Expansion of Green Landscape  

In the pages that follow, the plan also announces some terrific news to the public. The green landscape inside Fairfax is now at a level that in 2006 was only an enthusiastic target for much later.

“After adoption of the original TAP, the Board set a 30-year tree canopy goal of achieving 45 percent tree canopy by 2037. With the advances in technology and growth of our forests and landscape trees, an Urban Tree Canopy Assessment in March 2017 found our tree canopy to be 57 percent of the land area of the county,” it says.

Emphasis on Climate Change

As well as spread of invasive species, lack of predators and funding limitations, the plan also points to climate change as a major stressor threatening the tree population. The scale and uncertainty of transformations that constantly take place as a result of rising greenhouse gas emissions, it suggests, are presenting such difficulties that the humankind is now unable to fully fathom.

“Changes to the environment resulting from changes in the climate threaten to alter the urban forest of Fairfax County in ways that we can only guess,” it says.

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