The state of Nashville’s tree canopy

A new Urban Tree Canopy Assessment by Metro looks at canopy loss and opportunities to expand it.

A view of a walking trail in Centennial Park with lush green trees and grass as the sun peeks through them.

Use this guide to identify the types of trees at Centennial Park. | Photo via @centennialpark

A new Urban Tree Canopy Assessment determined that between 2016 and 2021, Nashville’s tree canopy declined by 674 acres. That’s about the size of five Centennial Parks.

Metro is responsible for conducting this assessment every five years. Why the spotlight on trees? Beyond mitigating stormwater runoff, improving air quality, offering cooler summer temperatures, and supporting wildlife habitats, trees provide lasting benefits for physical and mental health.

Report highlights

The results — based on 2021 imagery from the USDA’s National Agriculture Imagery Program — provide a snapshot of canopy changes between 2010, 2016, and 2021. As of three years ago, Nashville contained 56% tree canopy (169,832 acres) and 24% (72,400 acres) available for canopy expansion. The remaining 20% (think: roads and parking lots) is deemed unsuitable for planting.

From 2010 to 2021, Nashville experienced a 1.7% (5,095 acres) increase in canopy. Yet, gains from tree planting and natural revegetation were countered by tree loss, primarily due to development, extreme weather events like tornadoes, and Emerald Ash Borer infestation, according the report.

Community-level canopy

To aid future urban forestry planning, Metro assessed the existing tree canopy and potential expansion in Davidson County’s 14 community plan areas. While 10 areas had below-average tree canopy cover, the far north and southwest portions of the county — think: Bellevue, Joelton, and Whites Creek — contribute over 50% of Metro’s total canopy.

In terms of potential planting areas (PPA), the Madison and Donelson-Hermitage-Old Hickory community plan areas have the highest percent available at 30% and 29%, respectively. Downtown offers 183 acres of plantable space, which could double its canopy cover. See the complete breakdown on page 16.

Rooting for more trees

While the report doesn’t get into specific recommendations, area organizations are working to increase Nashville’s tree canopy.

Just last week, the Tennessee Environmental Council gathered at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park to commemorate the one million native trees planted by the organization from 2007 to 2024. Meanwhile, Root Nashville has planted and distributed 37,000 trees — working toward its goal of 500,000 trees by 2050.