The Mecklenburg Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) is helping to shape policy for tree canopy conservation in North Carolina.

Earlier this year, the city of Charlotte created a Tree Canopy Action Plan Stakeholder team in response to public outcry to a tree ordinance amendment. Mecklenburg SWCD already works closely with the city’s Stormwater Committee, contributing to solutions toward impervious areas and groundwater issues, so City Planner Andrew Ausel approached the SWCD to be one of 20 stakeholders on the Tree Canopy Committee.

“We wanted a multidisciplinary approach, and we saw the conservation district as an important thought leader, as well as a voice that should be involved in any strategy we come up with to preserve trees in Charlotte,” Ausel said.

The city currently has a relatively healthy canopy for an urban area at 45 percent. Still, that has fallen from 49 percent in 2012. The city’s existing ordinance was written when Charlotte was still relatively suburban and focused primarily on preserving canopy on sites with lots of existing trees. As the city grew more urbanized, the tree canopy requirement became onerous, Ausel said. Last year, the city decided to update it.

Originally a small amendment to a larger ordinance, the tree requirements and conservation efforts that move forward out of the Tree Canopy Action Plan will be finely tuned by the project stakeholder team, which meets once a month. The Action Plan will include development policies and programs that will be included as part of the city’s new comprehensive plan.