Wake County has released a new Land Cover Analysis and Tree Canopy Assessment report designed to spark conversations and identify opportunities to enhance our county’s green spaces in the face of rapid growth.
“Trees provide critical community infrastructure by helping clean the air we breathe, filtering the water we drink and mitigating the impacts of a changing climate,” said Shinica Thomas, chair, Wake County Board of Commissioners. “As a board, we strive to achieve healthy, equitable and sustainable outcomes for all of our residents. This study is another tool we can use to guide future decisions as we plan for the next wave of growth.”
From 2010 to 2020, the countywide population climbed from 900,993 to 1,129,410 — an increase of 25.4%, which is more than 2 1/2 times the growth rate of North Carolina and nearly 3 1/2 times the national growth rate.
Over the past several years, Wake County residents have expressed concern over how that growth has affected county’s traditional farm and forest lands. A chief concern cited by many is the loss of trees, especially in areas that are more socially vulnerable.
Wake County has responded with a variety of planning advancements made through the Wake Transit Plan, the Wake County Affordable Housing Plan, Live Well Wake, the Wake County Greenways Plan, PLANWake — and now — the Land Cover Analysis and Tree Canopy Assessment.
The recent land and tree study presents snapshots in time of land cover, tree canopy and potential tree planting locations throughout Wake County from 2010 to 2020. In addition to the countywide report, Wake’s 12 municipalities received versions specific to their planning jurisdictions. All reports are available at wake.gov/TreeCanopy.
What the Study Shows
Here’s a sampling of the stats available in the report:
- As of 2020, Wake County’s tree canopy had a combined estimated value greater than $3.2 billion.
- Wake County had 54.2% tree canopy cover in 2020, with over half of those trees in good or very good condition.
- Over their lifespan, Wake County’s trees are estimated to have collectively removed and stored over 10.2 million tons of carbon from the atmosphere. The value of this stored carbon equates to more than $1.74 billion.
- Each year, Wake County’s trees:
- Removed 11,022 tons of pollutants from the air.
- Absorbed 414,710 tons of carbon dioxide.
- Intercepted 8.1 billion gallons of stormwater.
- From 2010 to 2020, Wake County lost 11,122 acres of tree canopy — a total land area more than double the size of William B. Umstead State Park. That’s a 3.6% decrease in the total amount of canopy.
- Most of the county’s 597 census block groups experienced net canopy loss during the 10-year period of study. Areas that saw the greatest concentration of lost canopy include the western portions of the county, within the City of Raleigh, and in areas of recent growth and development to the northeast and southeast of the city.
- The study found 404,879 individual potential planting areas totaling over 80,000 acres. Using factors like social equity, stormwater runoff and urban heat island impact — measures that can indicate community vulnerability — over 10,000 acres were identified as “very high planting priority.”
The information in this report establishes baseline statistics for land cover and tree canopy in Wake County.
County staff will study the report’s findings and use that data to help educate the public and support future tree planting and preservation initiatives. One planting project is already in the works for 2024.
Additionally, the data can assist policymakers, planners and community stakeholders in securing funding to support these activities.
Visit wake.gov/TreeCanopy for additional information, including:
- Full countywide and municipal reports.
- TreeKeeper Canopy software, which allows the public to interact with the data. Users can map out tree planting locations and then project out the benefits and costs to help set goals and win grant funding.
- A Story Map, which enables residents to learn more about the land cover environment at their own address or other locations of interest.
Wake County Planning, Development and Inspections’ staff worked closely with municipal partners and Davey Resource Group to produce this report. Get all the details at wake.gov/TreeCanopy.