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Report: Tree canopy in parts of Berkeley County same as inner-city areas

Jefferson County's 38 percent of tree canopy was slightly less than eastern Berkeley County's 41 percent

August 14, 2013|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — There are urbanized areas in Berkeley County that match inner-city neighborhoods in some of the nation’s largest cities when it comes to the amount of tree canopy and concrete or asphalt-covered surfaces, according to a University of Vermont report.

In fact, the percent of leaves, branches and stems of trees, or canopy, that cover the ground when viewed from above the eastern side of Berkeley County in the Opequon Creek watershed is less than Pittsburgh and Baltimore County, among other communities where similar assessments have been completed, said the report, which was commissioned by the Cacapon Institute.

“Development in Berkeley County will increase problems associated with impervious surfaces, such as peak temperatures and stormwater runoff,” the report concluded.

“Tree planning programs that coincide with new developments will not solve these programs immediately, but such investments in green infrastructure will pay off in the long term,” it said.

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While neighboring Jefferson County’s 38 percent of tree canopy was slightly less than eastern Berkeley County’s 41 percent, Jefferson still has more area that could potentially be tree-covered, the report said.

The assessment found that Harpers Ferry, W.Va., was essentially the most leafy among towns in Berkeley and Jefferson counties, with 69 percent of the tiny community in existing tree canopy.

Bolivar, Shepherdstown and Falling Waters all had greater than 40 percent in tree canopy, the report said.

Overall, Martinsburg had the highest amount of land, 1,351 acres, in tree canopy, but also had the highest amount of impervious area, 13 percent, where additional tree canopy was theoretically possible, the assessment found.

“In general, and particularly in Martinsburg, tree canopy per capita is lowest in block groups with a high amount of impervious area, such as concrete or asphalt, and relatively low per capita income,” the report said.

A separate “i-Tree Streets” report by the Cacapon Institute and West Virginia Division of Forestry found that 15 percent of Martinsburg’s streets and sidewalks receive the benefit of canopy cover from trees, 77 percent of which are in good condition. Only 7 percent of the trees were found to be in poor condition, dead or dying.

Based on a 10 percent random sample of the city’s street segments, the inventory estimated there are 1,770 municipal-controlled street trees, with the top five species being maple, ash, common pear, littleleaf linden and red maple.

The net benefit of the trees was estimated to be more than $160,000 annually in environmental and aesthetic benefits, including improved air quality, reduced stormwater runoff, carbon footprint reduction and energy bill savings.

The inventory’s findings, based on a 10 percent sample of randomly selected street segments, are to be presented today to Martinsburg City Council by the Cacapon Institute. The council meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. in the J. Oakley Seibert Council Chambers at City Hall, 232 N. Queen St.

Cacapon Institute, which is based in High View, W.Va., and has been working with Martinsburg and Berkeley County officials on tree canopy assessment, recommends that the county and the city establish goals and plans to reach them on improving the canopy.

Aided by a Chesapeake Bay Community Grant from the state Division of Forestry, the institute intends to continue to work with city leaders to complete an urban tree canopy goal and plan that, combined with the inventory, will be a “milestone” for West Virginia, according to the institute’s executive director.

“No other municipality has completed both tasks together,” Frank F. Rodgers said in a memorandum to council members.

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