Measuring “Tree Equity” For Downtown Areas Across MD

strong>The organization American Forests has developed a system of “Tree Equity Scores” to assess canopy and availability by downtown area — see where your neighborhood rates.

Trees are readily recognized as assets for quality of life, healthy living, and temperature moderation in downtown areas. Now, a tool is available to synthesize an area’s tree cover to help benchmark this across different areas.

The “Tree Equity Score” – where graphic at right from the website helps to explain the basic methodology – pulls together an analysis of “tree infrastructure” in a wide variety of downtown areas.

Data for the Washington DC Metropolitan area (including a broad number of Maryland areas) is available on an interactive map-based tool.

A recent article from Maryland Matters ran down the scores for multiple Maryland locations:

Baltimore scored 84, Annapolis scored 86 and Washington, D.C. scored 91. Montgomery County scored 96, the highest tree equity score among urban and suburban areas in Maryland. The lowest score for an urban-suburban area in Maryland is 73 for Stevensville in Queen Anne’s County.

2021 legislation passed promoting tree planting across Maryland, as described in this article from What’s Up Magazine:

Trees in all communities, but particularly urban communities, have significant benefits to health, climate, the economy, and the environment, yet some of Maryland’s urban communities are lagging on tree canopy goals. Maryland’s General Assembly passed the Tree Solutions Now Act of 2021 to attempt to remedy this inequity, calling for 5 million trees to be planted over an eight-year period, with 500,000 of them targeted to urban, underserved areas. The Chesapeake Bay Trust (the Trust) was identified as the administrator of the urban tree component, building on its 35-year history of distributing urban greening resources to communities across Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Ten million dollars per year over 8 years will be distributed by the Trust to communities, neighborhoods, civic groups, schools, and others who commit to planting trees in underserved regions as defined in the legislation. This includes urban areas with low median household income levels, high unemployment, and neighborhoods with housing projects or that were historically red-lined.

See also (former MACo colleague, now Chesapeake Bay Foundation Staff Attorney) Robin Clark’s op-ed item as run in the Chestertown Spy:

Many of these trees will likely be planted on the Eastern Shore. The target of 5 million is based on the potential for up to 4.5 million of the trees to be planted on agricultural and rural lands. As one of the state’s agricultural hubs, the Shore is well positioned to receive hundreds of thousands of trees from this category. The other 500,000 trees are designated for urban areas and the law’s definition enables communities such as Salisbury, Easton, and Cambridge to qualify for urban tree plantings and maintenance funds.

Trees are among the best defenses against climate change. They soak up carbon dioxide from the air—the primary greenhouse gas fueling climate change—and use it to grow. Their roots prevent soil erosion in the same way rebar reinforces concrete. This is especially important along shorelines where tree buffers strengthen stream and riverbanks. Tree branches provide shade that can cool city blocks as well as waterways, helping to reduce harm to fish and people alike from temperatures that are on the rise each year.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties