Frequently Asked Questions
A little background on the trees of Grand Rapids and what makes them so important.
What is the urban forest project?
What is an urban forest?
Why are trees important?
What is an urban forest canopy?
Why do we have a canopy goal?
Who set the 40% canopy goal?
How close are we to our goal?
What kind of trees are in our urban forest?
Additional information relating to specific issues with trees, tree care, or related questionbs can be found in our guides and fact sheets.
The Urban Forest Project is an initiative of the Friends of Grand Rapids Parks that seeks to engage the entire community in growing a larger, healthier urban forest. Core partners include the City of Grand Rapids, the Urban Forestry Committee, with support from the Grand Rapids Community Foundation.
If you were flying over Grand Rapids on a mid-summer’s day, what might you see? Buildings, streets, homes, parking lots, and highways. But you would also see a rich canopy of trees. In some parts of town, the billowing leaves of the city’s 1.6 million trees cloak the area in green, while in others—for example, downtown—barely a patch of green is to be seen.
From this aerial point of view, you might think of Grand Rapids as a city carved out of a forest, and in some ways, it is. All of those trees—in parks and cemeteries, along streets and in back yards, in golf courses and along rivers—make up our urban forest.
They provide important economic, environmental, and quality of life benefits to each of us, including:
- Save lives and improve health by removing air pollutants
- Enhance water quality by reducing runoff and decreasing flooding potential
- Reduce energy cost by shading buildings from hot summer sun
- Add to our quality of life with their beauty and cool shade
- Increase property values
- Reduced crime and safer neighborhoods
The canopy includes the total city's land area covered by each tree’s leaf area. It is a ratio represented by a percent of the total land covered by trees.
Quantifying our canopy helps us understand if we are gaining or losing trees over the years. It also helps us understand the benefits provided by our urban forest. Grand Rapids has a goal to achieve 40% tree canopy.
The City's Urban Forestry Committee recommended adoption of the goal in the 2009 Urban Forest Plan. The 40% number was set based on then-recommended best management practices for a City of our size and location. The City of Grand Rapids officially adopted the goal as part of the Green Grand Rapids plan in 2011.
In 2015, Grand Rapids completed a tree canopy analysis and we had a 34.6% tree canopy. This percentage stayed the same since the previous analysis in 2008 where we were also at a 34.6% tree canopy. This did not come as a surprise to us because between 2008 and 2015 the exotic invasive insect Agrilus planipennis, commonly known as the emerald ash borer, was spreading through the city limits. It is our goal to reassess our urban forest canopy cover every 5-10 years to chart our progress toward the 40% goal.
The most common species in the Grand Rapids Urban Forest are American elm, white ash, black locust, box elder, and sugar maple. There are 75 different species planted along our streets, including Norway maple, honey locust, green ash, sugar maple, and red maple. More than 50% of these “street trees” are maples—Norway, sugar, red, silver, and hedge.