Baltimore – The Benefits of Baltimore’s Urban Forest

The Baltimore metropolitan area has about 2.8 million trees, but about one-fourth of the city’s trees are distressed, dead or dying, according to an analysis by the U.S. Forest Service. To reach its 40 percent tree canopy goal, the city must plant approximately 750,000 trees — about 25,000 to 30,000 each year. Currently, about 7,500 are planted per year.[1]

Federal Hill neighborhood. Credit: Eugene Hood

Nevertheless, Steve Koehn, Maryland’s state forester, believes the city can reach its ambitious goal. “Forty percent of tree cover has a lot of value, and it’s an achievable goal. It’s a good number to strive for,” he says. “That can be achieved in any number of ways, through parks, street trees, what have you.”

TreeBaltimore, a city-led partnership funded in part by corporate donations, is working to achieve this tree planting goal.[2] The initiative was established in 2007 and is spearheaded by the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks Forestry Division. TreeBaltimore plants trees along streets and in parks, maintains existing trees, encourages natural regeneration and fosters a sense of stewardship among residents.[3]

“The program was started five years ago, and the whole purpose was to increase the tree canopy,” explains Charles Murphy, TreeBaltimore’s operations manager. “Forty percent is a very high number. When we started, we were only at 27 percent. With a city the size of Baltimore, you’re talking about planting more than a million trees in 30 years with little budget set up to do it. So it’s very ambitious to say the least.” And they’re having to do this with fewer resources than in the past. Baltimore’s urban forestry program suffered a setback in 2010, when budget cuts forced the Forestry Division to eliminate many positions and focus primarily on emergency pruning and removing dead trees.[4]

Since more than half the land available for tree planting in Baltimore is privately owned, enlisting the help of private landowners, both residential and commercial, is particularly important. To encourage residents to get involved with planting trees in their neighborhoods, every spring and fall TreeBaltimore offers free one-gallon trees for homes and businesses. The city gives away the trees at farmers’ markets, local events and parks.[5]

The city stands to gain in a number of ways from ratcheting up its tree planting and treecare efforts. According to TreeBaltimore, a single tree provides about $57,000 in economic and environmental benefits over its lifetime. The urban canopy as a whole provides $3.3 million a year in energy savings by shading buildings from the summer sun and blocking winter winds; $3.8 million a year by removing 700 metric tons of air pollution; $1.6 million a year by removing 244 metric tons of ozone; and $10.7 million a year by storing 527 tons of carbon.[6]

“The way to mitigate the negative effects of an urban environment is to embed as much green infrastructure in that landscape as you can,” Koehn says. “There is a tremendous amount of environmental services associated with it.”

Adds Parks & People’s Carrera, “That economic benefit goes largely unrecognized. This is an infrastructure asset, and we need to recognize the value of urban forests in cities, to understand that just like any other asset that you have, it requires an investment of resources to be sure that you’re not losing value in that asset over time.”

One of the key infrastructure functions an urban forest can serve is to filter and slow down stormwater runoff, and in Baltimore, stormwater can directly affect a larger, region-wide effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay.


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[1] Baltimore Tree Trust. (accessed Sept. 25, 2012).

[2] City of Baltimore. Baltimore Department of Recreation and Parks. TreeBaltimore. Constellation Energy Committed $300,000 For Tree Planting And Maintenance (accessed Sept. 25, 2012).

[3] Energy-committed-300000-for-tree-planting-and-maintenance.aspx (accessed Sept. 25, 2012).City of Baltimore. Baltimore Department of Recreation and Parks. TreeBaltimore. (accessed Sept. 25, 2012).

[4]  Dewar, H. Tree Town. Urbanite [Online] 2010. (accessed Sept. 25, 2012).

[5] City of Baltimore. Baltimore Department of Recreation and Parks. TreeBaltimore. Programs. (accessed Sept. 26, 2012).

[6] City of Baltimore. Baltimore Department of Recreation and Parks. TreeBaltimore. Value of Baltimore’s Trees. (accessed Sept. 25, 2012).