Louisville Could Benefit From a Tree Ordinance, Expert Says

Louisville’s tree canopy has been reduced in recent years by invasive pests and storms. Several steps have been taken to begin looking at the issue, but the city still lacks a comprehensive tree ordinance.

Enter Ed Macie. He’s a regional urban forester with the U.S. Forest Service who’s been helping cities craft tree ordinances for decades. And he’ll be in Louisville today and tomorrow to discuss the benefits of such an ordinance.

These tree ordinances run the gamut, from simply establishing a tree board and recognizing Arbor Day, to comprehensive landscape codes integrated into every city function. 

Macie said of the 13 southern states in his district, there are probably close to 1,400 cities with tree ordinances. 

“To have a tree ordinance isn’t really an extraordinary thing,” he said. “It’s almost, if a city doesn’t have one, especially one the size of Louisville, one would almost ask ‘why’ at this point, because they are so common.”

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer has said he wants to complete a comprehensive analysis of the city’s tree canopy before he considers a tree ordinance. Louisville Tree Commission chairwoman Katy Schneider estimates that process that could cost up to $250,000; $50,000 of that money is earmarked in the Metro budget, but the rest still has to be found. Proposals for that analysis are due tomorrow.

Macie said tree ordinances have been around for a lot longer than high-tech tree canopy analyses. He said the analysis could be useful, but he doesn’t think it’s necessary.

“I think what a canopy analysis will do is reveal a lot of opportunities for increasing tree canopy in Louisville,” he said. I don’t think it’s going to change the overall outcome of what an ordinance might look like. So I guess the short answer to that question is that it’s not necessary to wait.”

The city’s Tree Commission has already recommended that Fischer pursue a tree ordinance, but the commission lacks the funding and power to create the ordinance on its own. Schneider said Macie’s visit is part of the process of building a case for a tree ordinance.

Macie will also present to the Metro Sustainability Committee tomorrow morning. The committee is chaired by Councilwoman Tina Ward-Pugh, but Vice Chair Tom Owen will be filling in tomorrow.

Owen said the council could choose to act without the mayor and create a tree ordinance, but he doesn’t think that’s likely. He said Macie’s visit will provide a good opportunity to talk about the city’s Tree Commission and begin exploring the ways a tree ordinance could benefit Louisville—like alleviating the urban heat island effect and reducing storm water runoff.

“There’s really no downside [to a tree ordinance,” Macie said. “Sometimes you hear arguments that it might have a negative impact on economic development. But my personal opinion, I’ve only seen tree ordinances create better products, which might draw a better economy. There are so many positive benefits to trees in cities.”

Macie will speak tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. in the Metro Sustainability Committee in Metro Hall, and again at 5 p.m. at the Tree Commission meeting, at 850 Barret Ave.

Erica Peterson

Erica Peterson reports on energy and the environment for WFPL.

@ericampeterson

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