Habitat Network Focal City: Washington D.C.

Photo © Anthony Quintano

Urban populations around the globe are growing rapidly. In the United States, more than 80 percent of Americans now live in cities, and this percentage is projected to rise over the coming decade.
Unfortunately, as urban populations increase, so do pressures on public infrastructure, finances, and natural resources, like clean water and air, which can create cities that are prone to floods, pollution, and drought. Conservation actions such as installing rain gardens or planting trees can be implemented on any property, public or private, and are cost effective way to address growing pressures on natural resources in urban areas.

aerial DC

Photo © La Citta Vita

In Washington, D.C., these stresses are already apparent in the mounting challenges residents face to disperse intense rainfalls, protect clean drinking water, and cool buildings during heatwaves.
The Nature Conservancy is working to address D.C.’s most pressing environmental issues through cost-effective means that also encourage people to form a more sustainable relationship with nature. The Conservancy’s Maryland/ DC Chapter and Urban Conservation Program are encouraging and designing green infrastructure and planting and maintaining trees and vegetation on public and private lands that will filter the air, provide shade, and help clean local water.

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Photo © Kevin Arnold

Reducing Stormwater Runoff is a major priority for The Conservancy in D.C.. Impervious surfaces are found in high proportions in urban areas, such as asphalt streets and cement sidewalks, which prevent rain from soaking into the ground naturally. Rain and water from storms (stormwater) washes across pavement, picking up heat, speed and pollutants and transporting them into local waterways and causing erosion. Stormwater runoff is now the world’s fastest-growing source of freshwater and coastal pollution. Research suggests we can significantly reduce this pollution through nature-based a.k.a green-infrastructure projects like planting native flora and installing features that mimic how nature retains and filters stormwater.

Downtown Louisville, Kentucky.

Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Devan King)

Expanding and maintaining the existing urban tree canopy is another emphasis in the Conservancy’s D.C. Urban Conservation Program as much of the District’s natural tree canopy has been replaced by pavement and other hard surfaces that trap solar heat causing some surface temperatures to reach 120-150oF13 during the intense summer months. These surfaces hold the heat and release it back into the atmosphere over the course of the day and evening resulting in urban heat-islands which increases air temperatures in these areas. The shade that trees provide has shown to reduce temperatures by up to 15+ degrees4 while cleansing the air and offering habitat for wildlife. There are many angles to consider when planting a tree in an urban setting, but Casey Trees’ Urban Tree Selection Guide for Washington DC is a great resource to help with planting decisions and making sure your trees will grow to a healthy, mature age.

Photo ©

D.C. is also interested in catalyzing social and economic gains. Urban conservation projects not only have the potential to restore the natural benefits that ecological systems provide, but can also offer social and economic benefits. For instance, they may help to decrease environmental-management costs, flood risk mitigation, save money on energy, create green jobs, improve residents’ health, engage stakeholders and beautify local communities.

Nature-based Solutions a.k.a. Green Infrastructure

Nature-based solutions are the good kind of “old school,” you know –the kind where things make sense. Basically it is addressing environmental issues by taking it back to basics and letting nature fix the problem. Nature-based solutions or green infrastructure are living solutions, that use natural processes and structures designed to address various environmental challenges while simultaneously providing economic, social, environmental, and health benefits.


Photo © Megan Whatton, The Nature Conservancy (Devan King), Megan Whatton

A.Rain Gardens are gardens built to collect, store and absorb storm water. These specific gardens allow for polluted stormwater runoff from developed areas, like roads and rooftops, to be captured and absorbed into the ground to naturally filter and recharge water tables.

B.Native Trees and Shrubs provide ideal ecosystem services in our landscapes for both humans and wildlife. When it comes to wildlife, there is nothing like a native tree or shrub because they provide food, shelter and nesting materials and locations. For humans the benefits are numerous, including beautification, shade/cooler temps, storm water retention and purification, reduced erosion, and cleaner air.

C. Reducing lawn and impervious surfaces by adding native vegetation is a great way to reduce non-point source pollution, clean our waterways, slow down rainwater drainage velocity, reduce erosion, and recharge our water tables.

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Habitat Naps in the Washington, D.C. Area

Photo © Habitat Network

The Habitat Network will work closely with the Conservancy’s Urban Conservation Program in Washington D.C. to map and track green infrastructure installations and tree planting through the use of our web-based, citizen-science mapping application. Over the next two years, we will also work with local partners and citizen scientists to field-test practices that private property owners can undertake to restore ecological functions and services, map private properties, and collect feedback on how to improve and adapt Habitat Network to an urban environment. The data collected through the mapping process allows us to track current and future green infrastructure and native habitat projects, and assess how they can contribute to the solution of specific, local environmental issues.

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Photo © Kevin Arnold

How can you help? Whether you are located in Washington D.C or the state of Washington, participating in a citizen-science program like Habitat Network assists scientists in the collection of data about what kinds of conservation practices are in place and where they are located. By joining Habitat Network and mapping your property, school, campus, office or public space you are participating in a citizen-science effort bringing conservation into the hands of the individual.

Live around the Washington, D.C. area? Get Involved

If your site happens to be within the Washington D.C Metro Area, use our Groups tool to add your site to the Habitat Network-D.C. Group and help us track habitat in the city.

Step #1 Sign into Habitat Network and navigate to the Groups Tool

Step #2 Search for a group within the tool by either:

  1. Using the “find a group” search in the left-hand panel in the groups tool.
  2. Expanding the list of groups found at the bottom of the Groups page.
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Photo © Habitat Network

Choose the Group Habitat Network-D.C.

Step #3 Once you are viewing the Habitat Network-D.C. Group, choose the “Join Group” at the top right of the Group Summary page.

Step #4 From the “Join this Group” dropdown, choose the map from the list of your sites that applies to the Habitat Network-D.C. group.

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Photo © Habitat Network

Step #5 Some groups might have membership conditions. If you want to add any justification as to why your map should be accepted into the group, please include before submitting your property to the group.

Step #6 Submit your map to the group for review. The creator of the group will review your map based on the group conditions (which can be found on the group summary page) and likely accept your map into the group.

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Photo © Habitat Network