Environment

Louisville is getting a million dollars to rejuvenate the city’s aging tree canopy and educate the public about the importance of trees. Mayor Greg Fischer announced the anonymous donation Monday and launched a call to the public to match it with another million dollars.

The factors taxing Louisville’s tree canopy are well documented. Major storms, invasive pests and old age are taking a toll, and studies estimate the city is losing about 54,000 trees a year. This is a particular problem as Louisville tries to combat the urban heat island effect, where heavily paved neighborhoods with sparse tree canopies are warming at much faster rates than surrounding countryside.

About 37 percent of Louisville is currently covered by trees. The city’s goal is 45 percent.

Mayor Greg Fischer and Councilmen Dan Johnson and Bill Hollander join TreesLouisville Director Cindi Sullivan and students in planting a tree at Gilmore Elementary. Erica Peterson | wfpl.org

Mayor Greg Fischer and Councilmen Dan Johnson and Bill Hollander join TreesLouisville Director Cindi Sullivan and students in planting a tree at Gilmore Elementary.

At the press conference at Gilmore Lane Elementary, Fischer said the $1 million donation is the biggest gift the city has ever received for trees, and will provide environmental and financial returns.

“The shade that trees provide, it lowers energy costs, they’re aesthetically pleasing, so trees increase property values as well,” he said. “They attract people to live in neighborhoods, they attract businesses to neighborhoods, just improve the overall quality of life.”

Nonprofit TreesLouisville will manage the project’s outreach. Executive Director Cindi Sullivan said the money will go to purchase trees of all sizes — from tiny saplings to larger landscape trees — and there are plans in place for maintenance.

“Trees are an integral part of our community infrastructure,” she said. “Trees are just as important if not more so for a fully-functioning healthy community as our roads, our sewer system and our clean water supply.”

Sullivan said some of the smaller trees will be handed out to citizens to plant on their private property, but the bulk will be planted on city-owned land.

Encouraging more citizens to plant trees on their property is also an integral part of the project, she added. The same report that quantified Louisville’s tree loss also found that nearly three-quarters of the land where tree planting is realistic is privately-owned, so making a real dent in the problem will require public involvement.

The Community Foundation of Louisville is accepting donations to match the initial $1 million gift. There’s more information here.

Erica Peterson is WFPL's Director of News and Programming.