Washington, D.C., gained the moniker “City of Trees” back in the days when the District of Columbia had an actual governor.
At the start of his two-year term in 1873, then-Governor Alexander “Boss” Shepherd ordered a massive public works effort that included planting tens of thousands of trees along city streets. From that point on, the city’s lush greenery attracted praise from members of Congress and foreign dignitaries alike.
But midway through the 20th century, the “City of Trees” faced odds that seemed insurmountable. Dutch elm disease transformed D.C.’s tree-lined avenues into vast expanses of concrete and decades of disinvestment occurred as the city’s population and tax base dwindled. Municipal agencies found it increasingly difficult to maintain D.C.’s treasured trees.
By 1999, when The Washington Post ran a front-page story in its Metro section that featured American Forests’ images and data about a significant decrease in the city’s tree canopy, the devastation was glaring — some parts of D.C. had lost more than 60 percent of their tree canopy in under a quarter-century.