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In Memoriam: Betty Brown Casey


August 31, 2022

Visionary Philanthropist Seeded Casey Trees

Casey Trees started in 2001 with a generous gift from Mrs. Betty Brown Casey, who passed away on Tuesday, August 17, at her home in Potomac, Maryland. While her passing marks the end of an era, the prescience of her vision that trees are important to our everyday lives – both individually and for the environment writ large – lives on.

At the start of the millennium, DC’s trees had hit a low point after many years of neglect. A Washington Post article at the time reported that DC was losing its trees and sounded the alarm that something needed to be done. In addition to a decline in trees overall, DC’s once proud streets that supported cathedral-canopies of American elm trees were in disarray. Some estimates showed over 8,000 dead street trees, with a removal backlog of over a year.

Moved by the plight of DC’s trees, Betty Casey asked The Garden Club of America to create an organization to accomplish her vision of making Washington DC, once again, the “City of Trees.” A unique aspect of her generous gift was not only its size but that it is structured to last in perpetuity, acting as an anchor to ensure the city’s trees remain healthy and abundant forever.

The fledgling organization immediately initiated a full-scale inventory of DC’s street trees, cataloging their type, size, and maintenance needs – and identifying spots where more trees could be planted. Casey Trees conducted the inventory with trained volunteers overseen by professional arborists to ensure quality control.

The inventory accomplished two significant outcomes. First, it updated DC’s street tree database to help it better deploy resources for tree planting, maintenance, and removal. Second, it was the seed that grew into a powerful volunteer force – Casey Trees’ Citizen Forester Corps. Mrs. Casey always spoke fondly about the time she spent with the interns who guided the inventory and relished hearing stories of the staff’s work as the organization grew and tackled new challenges.

Shortly after the inventory was complete, Casey Trees harnessed the voice of its Citizen Forester advocates to secure passage of the Urban Forest Preservation Act of 2002 (the “Tree Bill”). The Tree Bill protects “Special Trees,” those over 44 inches in circumference on all lands—public and private. Since its passage, the Tree Bill has saved thousands of healthy trees that would have been needlessly removed, resulted in the planting of tens of thousands to replace those that have been lost, and served as a model for jurisdictions across the US.

Casey Trees, now in its 21st year, works in close partnership with DC’s Urban Forestry Division (UFD) and the District Department of the Environment. The combined partnership efforts of all three groups ensure over 13,000 trees are planted every year – the most trees planted per capita or square mile than in any US city. Notably, thanks to UFD’s expansion, the city now boasts over 175,000 street trees – 75,000 more than when Casey Trees conducted its street tree inventory in 2001—and employs over 20 professional arborists, responsible not only for DC’s street trees but for those on all District lands.

Mrs. Casey’s generosity did not end with the founding of Casey Trees. In 2008 she gifted her home in Berryville, Virginia—a 700-acre estate—to the organization to grow trees. The “Farm” produces 7,000 trees every year to satisfy Casey Trees and its partners’ planting efforts while testing and showcasing growing techniques to produce trees specifically for the urban environment.

After two decades of planting and caring for more than 40,000 trees, advocating for stronger tree protections, and educating residents about the benefits of trees, we have found that trees are personal – touching our lives in meaningful ways. Mrs. Casey said that she started Casey Trees because her husband Eugene loved trees, and she loved her husband. The board and staff of Casey Trees are committed to ensuring that trees will remain a central component of Washington DC’s landscape, enriching the lives of its residents forever. What could be a more fitting tribute to a person of such generosity and vision as Betty Casey.


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