Environment

The Louisville Metro Tree Commission holds its final meeting this evening and is expected to vote on a draft ordinance that could create a new tree commission and new city policies for tree management.

Louisville’s urban canopy is declining due to age, storms, pests and development. A recent inventory of the canopy found that the city is losing 54,000 trees a year, and without intervention, only 21 percent of Louisville could be covered by canopy in the future.

The tree commission was formed by Fischer in an executive order in February 2012, and was meant to advise the mayor on tree-related issues. Specifically, members were tasked with educating the public on the value of trees and proper maintenance, publishing reports about the state of the city’s tree canopy and providing recommendations for guidelines on tree planting on city property.

Now, with the recent release of the comprehensive study of Louisville’s tree canopy, city officials say the work the executive order called for is done. But at its final meeting tonight, members will vote on a new draft ordinance that would change the city’s tree policies and form a newer, more powerful tree commission to succeed the current one.

The draft will be considered tonight. If it’s passed, it will go to Fischer as a recommendation and will ultimately have to be approved by Metro Council before taking effect.

The draft ordinance directs Metro Government to create a new department: the City Department of Community Forestry. This new department will provide oversight and coordination for all of Louisville’s tree issues; currently, there are positions in several city departments dealing with trees.

The City Department of Community Forestry’s duties would include completing a county-wide tree canopy assessment every five years, creating a written tree management plan for the county and having control over all trees on city-owned property or right-of-ways.

The draft ordinance also calls for the re-birth of the Metro Tree Commission. But rather than existing solely as an advisory body like the current commission, the new tree commission would have the power to promulgate rules, regulations and standards.

The draft proposal also changes the makeup of the tree commission. Currently, there’s a heavy focus on geography; of the citizen members, one comes from each senatorial district, as well as four at large. The new proposal would instead value experience. It calls for nine members appointed by the mayor and approved by Metro Council; they include a certified arborist, a registered and Kentucky-licensed landscape architect and representatives of the nursery industry, an environmental organization and the Metro area chamber of commerce. There are also four spots for citizen members-at-large, representing diverse geographical areas.

One of the things not included in the draft ordinance is a “no net loss” policy for city trees, which would require anyone who needs to remove trees to replace the trees. Considering an ordinance like this to reduce tree canopy loss was one of the recommendations from the city’s recent tree canopy assessment.

(Photo by Chris Chandler.)

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