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Individual Highlight

U.S. Urban Tree Cover Declining

Photo of Snapshot : Analysis of aerial images reveals that U.S. urban areas are losing about 20,000 acres of tree cover per year

Principal Investigators(s) :
Nowak, David J.  
Research Location : Eastern United States
Research Station : Northern Research Station (NRS)
Year : 2012
Highlight ID : 89


Trees in urban areas provide numerous benefits to city residents. Forest Service scientists found that, in recent years, urban tree cover has been declining at a rate of about 20,000 acres per year or about 4 million trees per year.

Trees in urban areas provide numerous benefits related to air and water quality, air temperatures, energy use, social well-being, and human health. Numerous forces, however, such as urban development, insects and diseases, natural regeneration, and tree planting, are constantly challenging the urban forest and landscape. Recent analyses by Forest Service scientists of urban tree cover nationally reveal that urban tree cover is on the decline and that urban areas affect regional tree cover positively and negatively.

At a national level, urban tree cover in the late 2000 decade has declined at a rate of about 20,000 acres per year or about 4 million trees per year. Most of the cities that were analyzed revealed a loss in tree cover that averaged about 0.3 percent of the city area per year. Although tree cover is declining within most urban areas, the development of some urban areas can increase regional tree cover, especially in grassland-dominated States.

Thus, the process of urbanization is changing regional tree cover while tree cover in already established urban areas is on the decline. Understanding these changes is leading to better management plans to sustain tree cover and their associated benefits for current and future generations.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • RPA Assessment Staff
  • State & Private Forestry Urban and Community Forestry Program
  • National Science Foundation
  • State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry