Arlington National Cemetery must expand to meet the growing demand for plots in the military's premier resting place, and that could require cutting down nearly 900 Civil War-era trees.

The Army Corps of Engineers recently released a report that calls for the removal of 890 trees -- the majority of which are in forested areas west of the Arlington House -- to create room for about 31,000 graves on a 30-acre tract.

The expansion should extend the life of the cemetery beyond 2050, cemetery spokeswoman Jennifer Lynch said, but it would come at the expense of hundreds of oak trees that are 90 to 130 years old.

"The [project] is being designed to maximize the cemetery mission while retaining as much of the trees in the area as possible," Lynch said.

Who's eligible for burial in Arlington
» Active-duty or retired members of the armed forces
» Service members who left the military because of a physical disability prior to Oct. 1, 1949
» Honorably discharged veterans who won the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star or Purple Heart
» Honorably discharged veterans who held federal elected office or served on the U.S. Supreme Court
» Former prisoners of war
» The spouse or minor child of any person qualified for burial there, at the discretion of the secretary of the Army
» Parents whose child was buried there based on the eligibility of a parent

The forest at risk is often depicted in historic writings, drawings and photographs from the late 1800s and is one of the few forests in the area to survive the Civil War, the report said.

The potential loss of mature trees disturbed a number of Arlington County officials and residents, who have already started reaching out to the Army Corps of Engineers about ways to preserve as many of the trees as possible.

Jamie Bartalon, an Arlington County landscape and forestry supervisor, said he and other members of the Arlington Urban Forestry Commission are still "digesting the details" of the report, dubbed the Millennium Project, and plan to submit comments about it after the holidays.

"It's a balancing act between the needs of the cemetery and the impact of the project," Bartalon said. "Hopefully we'll find a way that can meet their needs but also reduce the significant tree impact."

Work on the Millennium Project began decades ago but was temporarily suspended in 2010 after investigators found unmarked graves, unrecorded grave sites and unearthed urns. Cemetery officials were fired, and problems were resolved under new leadership.

Lynch said the cemetery would replace as many of the trees as possible once the project was completed. The report says as many as 600 new trees could be planted to replace those cut down.

"We hope that there's a way for us to recognize the holiness of the site and keep it a cemetery for memorializing," said Nora Palmatier, president of the Tree Stewards of Arlington and Alexandria. "But we also want to save the trees."