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Sustainable DC
Built Environment


DC Surface Type. Open waters (Potomac and Anacostia Rivers) 10%. Undeveloped land 12%. Developed land 78%.The District’s population is rapidly growing. With an average increase in the District’s population of 800 to 1,000 per month over the past five years, we must balance population growth and development with the conservation and management of natural resources. Washington, DC includes over 6,700 acres of National Park land and 900 additional acres of the District Government-owned parks. Since so much of DC’s parkland is federally protected, the District Government works closely with the National Park Service and other federal landowners. The District is also home to two tidal rivers, the Potomac and the Anacostia. These waterways provide valuable habitat for wildlife, including nesting bald eagles and newly restored populations of American shad (DC’s official state fish). Beyond the threats of urban development, extreme heat and weather events caused by climate change are also impacting the District’s natural environment. Restoring, expanding, and protecting natural habitats in the District improves our air and water quality, helps manage stormwater, plays a critical role in safeguarding our biodiversity, and protects the city against the urban heat island effect, floods, and other impacts of climate change.

Despite being a highly urban area, the Trust for Public Land recognized the District as having the third highest-ranking park system in the country. The District Government is committed to protecting our natural areas while also providing all residents convenient access to nature and green places. In 2016, Mayor Bowser signed important legislation, the “Fisheries and Wildlife Omnibus Amendment Act of 2016,” to help protect critical wildlife habitats and better manage invasive species, as well as the “Tree Canopy Protection Amendment Act” that discourages the removal of healthy, mature trees. Within the District Government, DOEE is responsible for the conservation and management of all species of wildlife and their habitats. The District’s State Wildlife Action Plan, last updated in 2015, is a comprehensive, 10-year roadmap for sustaining, conserving, and protecting Washington, DC’s wildlife and habitats. In addition to this plan, the District’s MoveDC and Age Friendly DC plans also address access to green space.

Sustainable DC 2.0’s actions on nature have real-world benefits for the District at all levels:

Individual: Sustainable DC 2.0 aims to protect and restore Washington, DC’s natural environment and to create more opportunities for residents to have better access to high quality green spaces such as trails and parks. By enhancing access to nature, residents can enjoy the benefits of parks and natural areas, through reduced stress and improved health.

Neighborhood: Sustainable DC 2.0 is focused on strengthening access to the natural environment for neighborhoods across Washington, DC, with a particular emphasis of improving access to small parks and natural spaces in underserved areas of the city with less access to these resources currently.

District: Actions in the Nature section of Sustainable DC 2.0 focus not only on protecting and restoring the District’s unique natural environment, including our rivers, streams, and meadows, but also on expanding our tree canopy and creating new wetlands. Sustainable DC 2.0 seeks to weave the natural environment throughout Washington DC’s urban footprint by incorporating access to nature in the places where we live, work, and play.

Planting shade trees around your house can reduce air conditioning costs up to 30%. 38% of DC is covered by a healthy tree canopy. Annual Tree Plantings. 2012: 13,054, 2013: 9,544, 2014: 12,085, 2015: 15,044, 2016: 9,893, 2017: 12,441.Sustainable DC Nature Goals

The Sustainable DC 2.0 goals are to:

  • Protect, restore, and expand aquatic ecosystems.
  • Protect, restore, and expand land ecosystems.
  • Improve human access to and stewardship of nature

Where We Are

The amended Comprehensive Plan describes the city’s commitment to protecting the city’s natural areas while also providing all residents convenient access to nature and green places. Resilient DC describes the city’s approach to addressing sudden shocks and chronic stressors through an approach focusing on built and nature-based approaches.

There's More

The Nature goals also directly connect to goals in Health, Climate, and Water.

Read the entire Nature section below, or read the whole plan here.

Go even deeper on nature with DC's Wildlife Action Plan.

Interested in finding work in ecosystem restoration or in other fields supporting Sustainable DC's Nature goals? Learn more about workforce development and job skills programs here.

Want to volunteer with community organizations to protect natural systems? Find out how here.


lii: 2015 District of Columbia Wildlife Action Plan; liv: Department of Energy & Environment; lv: Department of Energy & Environment; lvi: Arbor Day Foundation; all as cited in Sustainable DC 2.0.