What is an Urban Forest?
In pre-colonial days, Delaware was covered with a dense canopy of trees. As our population grew, this rich forest of maple, oak, beech, and other varieties supported industry, agriculture and the environment. Eventually these mature forests were cleared. The mix of native trees and introduced species that now exists in our cities, towns or suburbs is known as our urban forest.
Today urban forests across the country are in decline. Trees are lost to new construction as well as to factors such as inadequate tree care and replacement. Over the last twenty years, tree cover (also known as tree canopy) in urban areas east of the Mississippi River has decreased by 30%, while the footprint of urban areas has increased by 20%.
Delaware’s urban tree canopy is well below the national average. The tree cover goal recommended by the nonprofit American Forests, for metropolitan areas east of the Mississippi River, is 40%. The national average is 23%. Since 1990, urban land in Delaware has increased by 14%, leaving only 16% tree canopy cover in Wilmington and 19% in the greater New Castle County metropolitan area.
Urban forests provide measurable environmental, societal and economic benefits. A decline in the urban forest eventually causes a significant increase in energy costs and requires building new infrastructure for air and water management. By contrast, maintaining a robust tree canopy provides more than 2.5 times the return on investment, and – unlike other city infrastructure –benefits provided by a properly managed urban forest increase over time.