Advocates hope Pittsburgh Mayor Gainey will stop developers from removing trees

Mayor Ed Gainey’s office is considering a new approach to the city’s tree canopy: implementing the plans it already has in place.

Gainey’s transition team released 120 pages of recommendations Thursday, one of which was about trees.

“The City’s own Climate Action Plan states unequivocally, ‘HALT the loss of forest canopy to developers’ and the City must hold to this, including its street trees,” reads the report.

This is welcome news for tree advocates in the city of Pittsburgh. It’s clear that this administration gets it. They understand the importance of trees,” said Maggie Aupperlee, the communications manager for Tree Pittsburgh.

The tree canopy in Pittsburgh has been declining, according to the most recent data. Between 2010 and 2015, the city lost 6% of its tree cover. The reason for the decline includes diseases and pests — but also developers that cut down trees. The city can work with developers to prevent this from happening, she said.

Although Pittsburgh still has a lot of trees compared to most cities, Aupperlee says, many of those trees are on hillsides or in cemeteries. Some neighborhoods have very few. Tree Pittsburgh has been working since 2015 in neighborhoods like Manchester and Chateau to increase the tree cover.

The mayor’s report points out that the loss of trees can make neighborhoods hotter in the summer and harm the health of nearby residents. The report urges the mayor to implement last year’s “Equitable Street Tree Investment Strategy.” The plan by the Shady Tree Commission calls for planting additional trees and doing extra tree maintenance in 10 neighborhoods where there are few trees and a lot of low-income residents.

Tree Pittsburgh and other groups have already been working with the city and other groups to plant 100,000 new trees in the next decade.

Tree Pittsburgh will release a study this summer that shows what happened to the city’s tree cover between 2015 and 2020, Aupperlee said. Although she doesn’t know if the city is still losing trees, she’s hopeful that the new administration will make it a priority.

“[Gainey] has planted trees with us in the past, and we’re excited to plant many, many more trees with him in the future,” she said.

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