The problem with the County’s tree canopy report (April 28, 2018)

Letter to the County Board:

In an April 23 article, “Dispute over Arlington tree canopy heats up” (,  Scott McCaffrey quotes County Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey as downplaying citizen concerns about the County’s recent tree canopy study:  “Quibbling over a percentage point or two is ‘not really useful for our public-policy work,’ Dorsey said.”

But the argument is not so much about the size of the reported changes in the County’s tree canopy from 2011 to 2016 as with how the County has interpreted and publicized the results of the report.

If we shouldn’t be quibbling over a percentage point or two change in the tree canopy, since “reasonable people can disagree” (Board Chair Katie Cristol) in their interpretations of the report results, then why has the County been publicizing a very favorable interpretation of the supposed one percent increase, without acknowledging that reasonable people could disagree about the positive spin?  For example:

— Headline in the County’s March-April 2018 “The Citizen”:  “Arlington Tree Canopy on the Rebound”;

— Posters in our parks claiming that “Since 2011 we reversed the decline and added 159 acres to our tree canopy.”

— Presentations to County elected officials, commissions and citizens claiming a tree canopy increase.

— INSIDENOVA headline:  “Officials: Arlington tree canopy posts a slight rebound”

This positive spin leads County officials and citizens to assume our tree canopy is doing fine.

Why is this a problem?  When the County claims our tree canopy is increasing, supporters of development use that claim to argue that further loss of trees is not a problem because “Arlington actually has more trees now than in 2011.”

But a look at Figure 8 in the tree canopy report shows the real story without a happy face: a swath of tree destruction running through the northern and central parts of the County.

That’s worth arguing about.

Bill Roos