Environment

For the past few years, Louisville has been wrestling with how to counteract the shrinking of the city’s tree canopy. An assessment released in 2015 estimated the city is losing about 54,000 trees a year due to factors such as age, disease, invasive pests, storms and development.

Companies, nonprofits and city organizations have been working to combat that decline, targeting various neighborhoods and populations for tree plantings. Now, a new initiative is aiming for a different demographic: high school students.

“[High school students] are the ones who are going to get to experience the growth of the trees and the benefits,” said Josh White. “But they’re also at an age where we can shape their culture and turn them into people who actually will care about having the trees planted.”

White is coordinating a tree-planting effort in the Highlands that will give away 500 trees to freshmen at Atherton and Assumption high schools on Friday. The trees will be paid for out of District 8 Councilman’s Tom Owen’s discretionary funds.

White, who is also running for Owen’s seat on the Metro Council, said tree giveaways are one of the most economical ways to help reforest the city, and various organizations have been testing different ways to get trees to people who want them.

Because of the low cost, he said, only 1 percent of the trees he gives away would have to survive to surpass the economics of organized tree plantings, such as programs the city sponsors. But White’s metric for success is if 30 percent survive — or 150 of the 500 trees he plans to give away on Friday.

“This would be a program that, if we did this county-wide, we would be able to not only reforest the county, but we’d be able to do it for $20,000 to 30,000 a year instead of $50 million, which is the current amount of money it would take to reforest the city using the public sector,” White said.

If Friday’s tree giveaway is successful, White said he hopes to replicate it at other high schools around the county.