Resource Data

Peter’s point of view: environmental policy implementation should be based on the best data

Peter’s Take is a bi-weekly opinion column. The opinions expressed are those of the author alone.

Our experiences with COVID-19 and flash floods have taught us that all of Arlington’s policies must be implemented on the basis of the best data. This is certainly true of Arlington’s environmental policies.

An excellent demonstration of implementing a best-evidence-based environmental policy appears in a March 2021 presentation presented to the Arlington County Civic Federation (Civ Fed) by Karen Firehock, Executive Director of the Infrastructure Center Richmond Green (GIC).

Canopy of mature trees

Firehock emphasized (slide 8) the critical importance of the canopy of mature trees in each locality:

  • Trees give us cleaner air, shade, beauty, and stormwater benefits at a much cheaper cost than engineered systems.
  • A typical street tree can intercept from 760 gallons to 4,000 gallons per tree, depending on the species

Additionally, Firehock reviewed (slides 12-16) the beneficial effects of mature trees in addressing serious health risks posed by urban heat islands and discussed (slide 15) how mature trees might mitigate these risks in Arlington.

Firehock also explained (slides 18-30) how to use the best science, including GIC’s stormwater calculator (slides 27-28), to deploy mature trees and other green techniques to slow down or reverse devastating effects of floods, overdevelopment and climate change.

Civic Federation Resolution

Based on Ms Firehock’s presentation, Civ Fed passed a resolution calling for “immediate county action to prepare an updated and comprehensive tree canopy and natural resource study that provides detailed information on land cover categories. relevant ”.

Among the key points of the resolution:

  • Arlington County data on our existing canopy is out of date
  • The county also lacks the analytical capacity that comparable neighboring jurisdictions have.
  • Analytical capabilities that Arlington lacks are nationally recognized as requirements for effective green infrastructure and stormwater planning
  • Arlington County Should Prepare Comprehensive Up-to-Date Tree Canopy and Natural Resources Study
  • The updated study is expected to be used as a resource for future stormwater planning and other county programs and can be completed in two to three months at low cost.

Strong support for commissions

The Arlington Forestry and Natural Resources Commission (FNRC) strongly supports the strategic importance of carrying out a new canopy survey of mature trees in Arlington.

In a June 2021 letter to the county council, the FNRC convincingly explained why a new canopy survey is needed to implement new policies to correct social inequalities. Historically disadvantaged communities tend to be those with fewer trees and green space – and therefore fewer benefits (reduced air pollution, improved health).

The FNRC stressed the need to identify areas of the county with the greatest tree deficits, as well as those with the greatest tree loss, in order to improve the county’s natural environment for all. Some neighborhoods have seen their forest cover fall by double-digit percentages – up to 20%.

The FNRC underscored the urgency of accurately measuring the current extent of Arlington’s urban forest, identifying areas and neighborhoods that are suffering from a lack of trees or accelerating losses.


We must insist that our county government apply the principles of inventory 101 accuracy. Without an accurate canopy inventory, we cannot hold the county government accountable for critical environmental decisions.

In a recent essay on Nashville, Tennesse put it, “We need trees, and the trees need us.” Nashville has recognized the trees as part of its “civic infrastructure”.

We can and should base the final implementation of environmental policy on the results of a new study of the canopy of mature trees so that we can accurately answer questions such as:

  • What percentage of Arlington’s existing canopy is on public land (especially parks and schools) where the county has maximum flexibility to act immediately?
  • Where exactly have we lost mature trees on private land due to development?
  • Considering the current rate of tree canopy loss due to development on private land and the current minimum requirements for replanting, what will the canopy of mature trees in Arlington look like in 20 years with and without the implementation of major political changes?
  • If the loss of mature tree cover on private land has serious consequences, what specific remedies should the county be advocating at the state level?
  • What will be the most significant impacts of Arlington in 5, 10 years for air quality, heat islands, climate change and human health?

Peter Rousselot was previously Chairman of the Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission (FAAC) of the Arlington County Board and Co-Chairman of the Advisory Council on Instruction (ACI) of the Arlington School Board. He is also a former chairman of the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC) and a former member of the Central Committee of the Virginia Democratic Party (DPVA). He is currently a member of the board of directors of Together Virginia PAC, a political action committee dedicated to identifying, assisting and advising Democratic candidates in rural Virginia.

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