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.

Washington, D.C., canopy change between 1973 and 1997.

Between 1973 and 1997, Washington, D.C., lost 64 percent of its tree canopy. A major news story prompted both the city government and a local philanthropist to take action towards restoring the city’s trees.

American Forests’ findings, part of a comprehensive look at the state of urban forests in the U.S., resonated with many folks, notably a handful with the influence and resources to make a positive change. From that study and newspaper article sprouted a new, $50 million nonprofit, Casey Trees, and a D.C. city agency focused on urban forestry, with robust budget and technical expertise — both groups determined to pay homage to D.C.’s legacy and make the city greener.

Today, American Forests’ work in Washington, D.C., focuses on continuing the vital work to be done by engaging disenfranchised populations and creating vibrant green spaces throughout the nation’s capital.

American Forests is working to make cities like Washington, D.C., greener and communities within them healthier.