MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Berkeley and Jefferson counties are among the “highest priority” counties in the nation in need of more trees, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
The two Eastern Panhandle counties rank above 75 percent nationally, and are the largest geographically in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to have that rank, the agency’s first National Planting Priority Index found in 2009.
Spurred by a small amount of available grant funding, Berkeley County now is set to join efforts to address the need for a larger tree canopy in the area to better protect the environment.
The Berkeley County Council on Thursday voted to apply for $7,092 in Chesapeake Bay Community Grant funding to be used for a tree-planting project.
An assessment of the county’s “urban tree canopy” also is expected to be completed, similar to how Jefferson County was studied in 2010 using data compiled by the U.S. Geological Survey.
A tree canopy is the layer of leaves, branches, and stems of trees that cover the ground when viewed from above.
The overall mission of the grant is to set a long-term urban tree-canopy goal for Berkeley County through demonstration projects, and preserve and enhance existing forested areas, under a proposal Herb Peddicord of the West Virginia Division of Forestry submitted to the council.
Peddicord said Thursday that the state grant funding was set aside specifically for Berkeley County, so he did not think the county’s application for the state money would be denied.
County officials said Thursday they are eying a tree-planting project at the county’s new public safety building in Martinsburg, which will house the law-enforcement division of the sheriff’s office.
Peddicord said another location that has been mentioned is county-owned parcels in the flood plain of Sportsman’s Paradise along the Potomac River.
The grant money can be used to purchase trees, prepare sites and for planting. It also would be used to produce a brochure about the benefits of an urban tree canopy.
The review of historical tree-management data, interpretation of the county’s urban tree-canopy assessment and development of a canopy goal also would fall within the scope of the grant. The planting is expected to be made possible with in-kind matches of volunteer labor, donated materials and equipment use.
Aside from the Chesapeake Bay grant, county officials said that a $5,000 grant from Waste Management could be used as a match for the project. Exactly how the money will be spent hasn’t been finalized.
In his proposal to the council, Peddicord said the “project will protect local waters ... and support West Virginia’s effort to help restore the Chesapeake Bay.”
“Tree canopy also mitigates the heat-island effect and improves air quality,” he said.
In addition to the money available to the county, Peddicord has said funding was also set aside for the city of Martinsburg. He made a similar presentation to the Martinsburg City Council earlier this year.