Pittsburgh will work towards recovering some of its lost tree canopy with a new initiative through Cambium Carbon and the Arbor Day Foundation. In between 2011 and 2015, the city lost about 6% of its tree cover. Before losing tree canopy, Pittsburgh had one of the top percentages of urban tree cover of any city in the U.S.
On Jan. 4, the city of Pittsburgh announced it was selected as one of four U.S. cities to receive a Reforestation Hub assessment. The program, developed by Cambium Carbon, a social impact venture focused on reforestation, in partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation, includes the development of a pilot project geared toward “improving resource efficiency and carbon capture at the municipal level,” according to a press release.
The ultimate goal will be to create a “circular urban forestry system” that will include programs like tree recycling to create economic opportunities from “healthy forests, restoration of public lands, and the recovery and expansion of the tree canopy.”Other chosen Reforestation Hub host cities include Denver, New York City, and Eugene, Ore.
The assessment will commence with the help of the Dept. of City Planning Office of Sustainability & Resilience and the Dept. of Public Works Forestry Division, as well as community partners.
City forester Lisa Ceoffe believes that improving the tree cover will add to the city's overall quality of life and that more attention should be paid to the effort.
“Pittsburgh’s tree canopy and urban forests provide many benefits, but resources are needed to make all of our green spaces the community assets they should be,” said Ceoffe. “Optimizing the health of some of our unmanaged public properties and increasing tree canopy will create more opportunities for recreation, improve stormwater management, provide shade and cooling in summer months, stabilize our hillsides, sequester carbon and air pollution, and deter dumping.”
The assessment comes in the wake of a years-long loss of urban tree cover due to climate change, development, and die-off, as well as destruction caused by factors like the emerald ash borer, an invasive insect that decimated North American trees, and an oak wilt fungus outbreak that impacted areas like Schenley Park. As a result, the city of Pittsburgh estimates a loss of 6.2% of its tree canopy between 2010 and 2015, leaving the current coverage at around 36%.
It also falls in line with a move by the city's environmental Climate Action Plan 3.0 to increase tree canopy coverage to capture carbon emissions and to better manage unused spaces. The latter applies to much of the city's green space being consolidated into Greenways for Pittsburgh, a program created in 1980 to “designate steeply sloped, unbuildable land for the purpose of protecting hillsides and preserving passive open space,” according to a Dept. of City Planning document.
Greenways now comprise 1,200 acres across 13 sites throughout city neighborhoods, and have “faced significant neglect over time.”
The project will look at ways to support the Dept. of Public Works’ Forestry Division and nonprofit partners so they can restore and improve unmanaged public lands, particularly the greenways, and increase tree canopy.
Marisa Repka, co-founder and City Partnerships Lead at Cambium Carbon, says the initiative will also make the case for “infrastructure and policy that will improve resource efficiency, create new jobs, and foster community resilience.” This includes generating new revenue to support tree planting and maintenance. Pittsburgh and Cambium Carbon plan to explore two new revenue sources for forest maintenance focused on handling fallen city trees and wood debris.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto believes the Reforestation Hub initiative will also play into efforts to help the city withstand the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“City governments need to find new sources of funding to recover from the pandemic and providing healthy, accessible outdoor open spaces has proven critically important for the health of our residents over the last nine months,” said Peduto. “The city of Pittsburgh is very excited for this timely opportunity to explore new methods of ecological and financial resilience that seek to enhance our tree canopy and green spaces to improve resident well-being.”