People for Trees: Holden Forests & Gardens launches plan to save Cleveland's tree canopy

We may take trees for granted in Northeast Ohio, but the Forest City is losing its tree canopy—declining at about 1%, or 97 acres, per year because of pests and diseases, climate change, and human activity, according to the Cleveland Tree Coalition’s 2015 Cleveland Tree Plan.

In Cleveland, the tree canopy declined by 5% from 2011 to 2021. In rural areas, forest land decreased by 300,000 acres and three million live trees were lost between 2013 and 2018.

At the rate the city is losing its trees, the Tree Coalition’s 2020 Tree Canopy Progress Report shows the Cleveland tree canopy currently at 18% and is on its way to declining to 14.7% by 2040—well below other cities in the region.

To meet the Tree Plan's canopy cover increase goal of 30% by 2040 would require the planting and successful establishment of 28,400 trees per year.

Action is needed, says Sandra Albro, director of community partnerships for Holden Forests & Gardens, which is made up of Holden Arboretum in Kirtland and Cleveland Botanical Garden in University Circle.

The Cleveland Tree Coalition has a goal of rebuilding the canopy to 30%, preferably 35% by 2040,” Albro says. “But we know the benefits really take off at 40%.”

Therefore, Holden Forests and Gardens last week launched its People for Trees campaign to pick up the pace of reforesting the Forest City and reverse the decline in the canopy. The campaign calls for the planting and care for 15,000 new trees in Northeast Ohio by 2025. But the program needs the public's support.

“Contributing to the tree canopy loss solution can feel daunting, says Albro. “People for Trees is designed to make it easier for each one of us to do our part. It is imperative that we act now to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change and other factors on the health of our urban and rural forests.”

Under the People for Trees initiative, residents pledge to plant a tree and care for it. In exchange for planting the tree, Holden will provide information on what trees are best to plant in Northeast Ohio; where to purchase a tree; when and how to plant a tree; and tips for caring for the tree as it’s growing.

With 59 trees experts on staff at Holden, Albro says people who pledge to plant trees will have plenty of support. “This is our way of getting people to get involved by planting and stewarding trees,” she says. “The pledge will get people registered for targeted interests—what trees are good for your property, how to care for trees, how to choose the right tree for the right place. We have a tree selection guide with [tips on] soil moisture and sun exposure.”

Holden Forests & Gardens president and CEO Jill Koski adds that the Holden staff will walk pledgers through everything they need to know to be a successful tree steward in their own yards.

“All along the way, People for Trees will supply people who join the movement with access to virtual tree-related classes, ‘Ask the Arborist’ live chats and plenty of inspiration to encourage all of us to appreciate—even fall in love with—trees,” says Koski. “By sharing our technical expertise, advocacy work and policy development…[and]providing training and education and working together to plant and care for trees and native plants, neighborhoods through Northeast Ohio will be healthier and happier.”

Additionally, Koski says people can donate money to have a tree planted in a Cleveland neighborhood that most needs trees—a critical part of this initiative to build the tree canopy.

“Improving a city's urban tree canopy has countless benefits, including improving public health by providing oxygen, filtering the air, and reducing stress,” she explains. “Trees also calm traffic and cool sidewalks and streets, making neighborhoods safer and more walkable. Trees remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, helping to combat climate change. A beautiful tree canopy attracts businesses and residents.”

The neighborhoods most in need of trees are those in the inner city and in impoverished areas, explains Koski.

“The Tree canopy is uneven across our region, tending to be lowest in marginalized communities, including communities of color,” she says. “These same communities are at greatest risk for the future negative effects of climate change. Because of the many benefits that trees provide, planting and caring for trees is an important way that we can take action to help reduce health and social inequalities now and in the future.”

For more information on People for Trees, or to take the pledge or donate, click here.

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: Karin Connelly Rice

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.