Legislation aims to fund restoring, maintaining Nashville’s tree canopy that’s being lost to development

Middle TN

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Metro leaders are trying to preserve Nashville’s tree canopy, saying trees being lost to development is costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

A 2018 report found that during the period of 2008-2019, the Metro area lost about 13% of its tree canopy. The loss resulted in more than $300,000 in stormwater impacts, a more than $66,000 loss in air quality benefits, and almost $260,000 lost in electricity/natural gas costs from additional home utility use.

“Development and economic activity are hugely important to the success of Nashville moving forward,” said Kendra Abkowitz, Metro Nashville’s Chief Sustainability & Resilience Officer. “At the same time, we also need to protect and restore our natural resources and nature-based solutions that can contribute to the livability of the community.”

Mayor John Cooper’s office is proposing a bill that they’re saying is a first of its kind. The legislation establishes a dedicated stream of revenue for restoring and maintaining Nashville’s tree canopy.

“The way we have set out this legislation is it proposes to essentially allocate from the general fund, the equivalent of 1% of the revenues from building permits, grading permits, and general obligation bonds issued for construction,” Abkowitz explained. “We selectively chose those different revenue streams, because again, they are highly connected to development activities, and therefore, tree canopy erosion.”

The mayor said Nashville’s growth continues at a strong pace but all that development brings the loss of trees, which can harm the environment, wildlife, and stormwater management. It also especially has negative impacts on low-income areas.

“Sometimes underprivileged are under-resourced or low income or minority communities may feel those impacts in a very different way, relative to how they’re felt by perhaps more wealthy, or well to do communities,” said Abkowitz. “I think behind this legislation is very much an effort to try to minimize those burdens felt disproportionately by certain populations.”

She says this revenue stream would build upon an existing program with the stormwater division that’s grown in recent years known as Root Nashville. While the Metro government can take action on public property, they don’t have access to private property. This program allows the government through non-profits to restore the tree canopy on private property where most of the development is happening.

“Root Nashville has already aimed to plant 500,000 trees by 2050. And so there’s a very robust plan in place to achieve that goal. And again, providing this revenue stream really gives the financial resources to that public-private partnership to make it successful,” she said, adding that Root Nashville has also focused over the past year on restoring tree canopy in particular neighborhoods that were affected more significantly by tornadoes.

The fund has an annual cap of $2.5 million and would get reviewed after a couple of years to see if it’s effective. The bill needs three passings on three readings from the metro council before it gets adopted. CLICK HERE to read more about the legislation.

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