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Louisville tree canopy cover increases despite projections of a decline

TreesLouisville is working to preserve the Louisville's remaining tree canopy and enhance it with additional plantings.
TreesLouisville is working to preserve the Louisville's remaining tree canopy and enhance it with additional plantings.

Louisville is becoming more shady than it was a decade ago.  

According to a new study from TreesLouisville, a tree-planting non-profit, overall tree growth went up 1% between 2012 and 2019 giving the city more canopy coverage. 

Tree canopy means any area covered by branches, leaves of trees and other foliage. 

That coverage is now at 39%. Mayor Greg Fischer has set a goal of reaching 45% tree canopy across the city by 2050.

TreesLouisville reports that Louisville loses 54,000 trees a year due to storms, invasive pests, development and old age.

The non-profit was created in 2015 following a 2012 assessment that revealed that the city had about 37% tree canopy.


Previously collected data had shown a much different projection for Louisville's canopy circa-2019.

“We had an assessment done that looked 2004 to 2012 data and that predicted a very steep decline in our urban tree canopy,” Trees Louisville Executive Director Cindi Sullivan said. 

However, instead of the decrease, Louisville’s tree canopy was able to outpace its tree loss.

“It takes trees time to grow,” Sullivan said. “So tree canopy increase is an actual process, trees canopy loss, unfortunately, is an event. You cut down those trees, they’re gone.”

That’s where tree preservation comes into play. Older trees already provide the coverage and ecosystems needed currently, while efforts continue to plant more trees. 

Since its creation, Trees Louisville has partnered with Louisville Metro Government, Jefferson County Public Schools and privately owned businesses to plant around 16,000 trees across the city.

Tree canopy coverage is an essential component of fighting climate change. 

It helps mitigate issues associated with urban heat “islands” or hot spots by cooling streets, absorbing rainwater and adding shade to areas that attract heat like parking lots.  

Furthermore, increased tree canopy coverage has been shown to increase quality of life.

Areas across Louisville experienced increased tree canopy. Districts 4, 9 and 21 all saw a decrease in the tree canopy.

District 4, represented by Jecorey Arthur, experienced the greatest loss of tree canopy and now has the lowest percentage of any district at 15%.

For the next assessment in 5 years, Sullivan said she hopes to continue to expand TreesLouisville partnerships to include more private property. 

“It’s important to point out that 70% of the plantable spaces in Louisville are privately owned property,” Sullivan said. “And because of that, that’s where we can make the most gains.”

Breya Jones is the Arts & Culture Reporter for LPM. Email Breya at bjones@lpm.org.