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Casey Trees Restores a Healthy Tree Canopy in the Nation’s Capital


October 13, 2020

Restoring, Enhancing, and Protecting

At the Casey Trees headquarters in Washington D.C., 1,400 new trees have arrived from their farm in Berryville, Virginia, ready to be planted this fall in parks, vacant lots, and school yards throughout all eight wards of the city. Because of Covid-19, the Casey crew will be doing the job without the volunteers who, since its founding in 2002, have normally helped with planting. To date, a total of 37,744 trees have been planted as part of the non-profit’s commitment to restoring, enhancing, and protecting the tree canopy of the nation’s capital.

This terrific progress is a credit to Betty Brown Casey, a longtime area resident and philanthropist, who was alarmed by a 1999 Washington Post article stating that the tree canopy in the nation’s capital had declined from 50 percent in 1950, to just 35 percent. She took action and turned to The Garden Club of America for guidance, establishing and endowing what would come to be known as Casey Trees.

Washington D.C. was famous for its broad, tree-lined avenues designed by Pierre L’Enfant and had even once held the moniker of “The City of Trees.” Over time, thousands of arching American elms had been lost to disease, but development had taken a toll as well. A healthy tree canopy captures and filters rainwater which reduces runoff, contributes to lowering temperatures, and improves air quality as well as quality of life. Mrs. Casey was right to be worried—but where to start on such a huge project? Barbara Shea, (Green Spring Valley Garden Club, Zone VI) was tasked with the original effort, serving as the first president of Casey Trees in 2002. She began by establishing a tree count—a daunting effort that continues to serve as a benchmark as Casey nears two decades of work. 

Research in the planning, management, horticulture and ecology of urban forests is an important aspect of Casey Trees’ mission. To that end, the GCA Zone VI clubs (which include the Capital region) established the Fellowship in Urban Forestry at Casey Trees, making its first award in 2006. The fellowship is administered through the GCA Scholarship Committee and has attracted over 100 applications. In 2020, the fellowship was increased to three awards of $7,500 each. “The GCA fellowship allows for a recipient to set up a research project, secure funding and demonstrate success in a non-restrictive manner which allows for a wide degree of urban horticultural research,” said Jessica Sanders, director of Science & Policy, Casey Trees. Many of these fellowship recipients have later gone on to serve in tree programs and parks departments around the country. The application deadline for the fellowship is Jan. 31st annually. Urban Forestry Fellowship

Partnering with the National Parks Services and the D.C. government, Casey Trees has also planted thousands of additional trees from their “palette of trees” throughout the city. A tree farm established in Virginia supplies trees for the group’s projects and allows them to sell trees to the public. In addition, the group also issues an annual tree report card and has trained more than a 100 “tree advocates” ready to respond with watering cans and hoses to emailed “watering alerts.” In 2002, the GCA recognized Betty Brown Casey with a special citation awarded to a non-member for her exemplary service and creative vision. Thanks to Mrs. Casey’s initiative and farsighted endowment of Casey Trees, the nation’s capital is getting its tree canopy back. 


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