Last week's Baltimore County Council resolution to evaluate ways to increase and improve tree canopy in the county was encouraging news for Catonsville residents working to add trees to the area.
The Aug. 5 resolution, co-sponsored by 1st District Councilman Tom Quirk, orders the Commission for Environmental Quality "to review the County's current requirements and standards for tree planting and preservation and to evaluate tree canopy programs in neighboring jurisdictions."
The commission is required to submit a report to County Executive Kevin Kamenetz by Dec. 31.
Commission members are asked to pay specific attention to watersheds and parts of Perry Hall and Towson.
But the resolution touches on an issue that is of particular relevance in Catonsville, according to Catonsville resident Valerie Androutsopoulos, who represents the 1st District on the commission.
She pointed out that Catonsville's proximity to Patapsco Valley State Park gives the impression that there is a large, healthy tree canopy in the area.
"...we may be a little lax in what we're doing individually, because we say, 'Oh, the state park is right down the street, and we have all these beautiful trees.' But we can still do a better job," she said.
"Within Catonsville, there have been a number of individuals who have sort of been spurring getting the homeowners to get involved — really encouraging people to start planting trees," she said.
Catonsville resident Jim Himel is among them. A licensed forester, Himel said he has been planting trees in the area for more than 10 years.
That effort includes his work with the Catonsville Tree Canopy Project, Himel said.
The project began in 2009 to replace canopy trees lost due to age, disease, discretionary removal and storm damage, according to an earlier article in the Catonsville Times.
Among its early projects in 2010 were more than 50 trees planted at Mount de Sales Academy on Academy Road and Hillcrest Elementary School on Frederick Road.
The group also worked with Baltimore Gas and Electric at Catonsville High School to plant approximately 24 trees that are more compatible with its overhead power lines on the property, the article said.
"The Catonsville Tree Canopy Project has put over 250 trees in the ground in the last couple years that are on street rights of way and other public spaces, school campuses, around Catonsville," Himel said. "Our goal is that we'll have 1,000 trees in the ground within a 10-year period.
"One thousand trees in the ground and taken care of over a 10-year period saves the county $1 million," he said on the cost the county would face to plant and maintain the trees.
The program receives grants from the Catonsville Community Foundation and the Catonsville Rotary Club for its yearly plantings. It received a $5,000 Constellation Energy Ecostar Grant in 2012 and a BGE Green Grant for $9,750 earlier this month.
Himel said the group uses American elm trees from Casey Trees, located in Washington, D.C., in their plantings to increase the number of large shade trees in the area.
"American elms were the quintessential shade tree in the U.S. 75 years ago," Himel said. "About 50 years ago, they totally got wiped out by Dutch elm disease."
Dutch elm disease was accidentally introduced into the United States. Spread by the elm bark beetle, it devastated many large tree populations, Himel said.
"These elms that are being reintroduced are a blight resistant, or disease resistant, elm," he said. "The expectation — the hope — is that we'll be able to bring back these tremendous shade canopies."
That same desire to increase shade and environmental health was the inspiration for the county resolution issued Aug. 5.
"... I think, long term, we need a more coherent vision for the county when it comes to tree canopy and a bigger picture," said 1st District Councilman Tom Quirk. "And I think that's an objective that the county executive and the County Council we all share."
"The tree canopy is essential to both public and environmental health, helping to offset emissions, reduce erosion, control stormwater runoff, and provide shade to regulate temperatures," Quirk said. "Trees also beautify our neighborhoods and increase home values."