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Declining urban and community tree cover in the United States

Formally Refereed
Authors: David J. Nowak, Eric J. Greenfield
Year: 2018
Type: Scientific Journal
Station: Northern Research Station
Source: Urban Forestry & Urban Greening


Paired aerial photographs were interpreted to assess recent changes (c. 2009–2014) in tree, impervious and other cover types within urban/community and urban land in all 50 United States and the District of Columbia. National results indicate that tree cover in urban/community areas of the United States is on the decline at a rate of about 175,000 acres per year, which corresponds to approximately 36 million trees per year. Estimated loss of benefits from trees in urban areas is conservatively valued at $96 million per year. Overall, for both urban and the broader urban/community areas, 23 states/districts had statistically significant declines in tree cover, 25 states had non-significant decreases or no change in tree cover, and three states showed a non-significant increase in tree cover. The most intensive change occurred within urban areas, with tree cover in these areas dropping one percent over the 5-year period, compared to a 0.7 percent drop in urban/community areas. States/ districts with the greatest statistically significant annual decline in percent urban tree cover were: Oklahoma (−0.92%/yr), District of Columbia (−0.44%/yr), Rhode Island (−0.40%/yr), Oregon (−0.38%/yr) and Georgia (−0.37%/yr). Coinciding with the loss of tree cover was a gain in impervious cover, with impervious cover increasing 0.6 percent in urban/community areas and 1.0 percent in urban areas over the 5-year period. Such changes in cover types affect the benefits derived from urban forests and consequently the health and wellbeing of urban residents.


Ecosystem services, Forest monitoring, Impervious surfaces, Tree cover change, Urban forests


Nowak, David J.; Greenfield, Eric J. 2018. Declining urban and community tree cover in the United States. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. 32: 32-55.