When it comes to the city's tree canopy, Columbus Recreation and Parks Department officials said there is nowhere to go but up -- and out.

Columbus has a tree canopy of 22%, substantially less than such comparable cities as Cincinnati (38%) and Pittsburgh (42%), according to information from the department, which is working on an urban-forestry master plan.

A canopy is the trees' layers of leaves, branches and stems that cover the ground when viewed from above.

The first workshop was held Jan. 30, and the remaining two will be held in March and April.

Residents also are invited to participate in "Let's Talk Trees," an open house to be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 4, in the Wyandot Lodge, 3228 Indian Village Road in west Columbus.

"This is definitely a chance for us to speak with the people of Columbus because we'd like to hear what they want to see in Columbus," said Stephanie Leis, spokeswoman for the recreation and parks department.

People may RSVP for the event at www.columbusufmp.org.

Those who cannot attend the public open house may share their thoughts at www.columbusufmp.org/get-involved.html.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service, improving a city's urban-tree canopy can have numerous benefits, including reducing summer peak temperatures and air pollution, enhancing property values, providing wildlife habitat, providing aesthetic benefits and improving social ties among neighbors. A robust tree canopy also can attract businesses and residents, according to the Forest Service's website: nrs.fs.fed.us/urban/utc.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, trees also reduce and slow storm water by intercepting precipitation in their leaves and branches.

In 2015, the city conducted an urban-tree-canopy assessment using aerial imaging to determine land cover, including tree canopy, which is essentially a network of mature trees whose branches help provide shade in a particular area, said Rosalie Hendon, project manager for the urban-forestry master plan.

Although it showed 22% of Columbus is covered by a canopy, it also showed tree covers range from 9% to 41% across the city's neighborhoods, Leis said.

And there's a wide disparity from neighborhood to neighborhood. Clintonville, for example, has a 41% canopy, whereas German Village has 20%, she said.

Hendon said the fact-finding project should shed some light on gaps in canopy coverage.

One theory is that socioeconomic factors play a role in the disparity, Hendon said.

"A lot of times neighborhoods that are invested in more heavily or are wealthier have higher tree-canopy cover," she said.

Part of the discussion will focus on trees planted on private property and what residents can do to help contribute to the canopy.

"I would say that, yes, planting trees on private property is important to any city," Hendon said. "Eighty percent of trees are on private property, so there's only so much a city can do with the property it owns."

The other part of the equation is tree inventory, which is when an arborist visits each tree and notes the tree's species, size, condition and other related information, Leis said.

Columbus conducted a public tree inventory in 1998 for street trees, followed by another inventory for park trees from 2012 to 2016, she said. The city's tree inventory shows Columbus manages about 127,000 trees, she said.

Destruction from the emerald ash borer, an insect that essentially destroys ash trees, is factored in the inventory, Leis said.

In 2011, the forestry staff estimated that 18,000 ash trees were on rights of way, and more likely were in city parks, she said.

The 2015 assessment was a first for Columbus, so no trends were available in canopy gains or losses, Leis said. Ash street trees that had to be removed were prioritized for replacement, she said.

gseman@thisweeknews.com

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