Tree equity

 

Page 2

An urban forest might seem incongruous, but there are currently numerous efforts in cities across the country to thicken tree canopies, and in doing so, reduce pollution, improve public health and even lower crime rates.

None are more ambitious than Los Angeles’s Million Tree Initiative, a multi-year, collaborative effort that seeks to transform a city known more for its smog than its woodlands.

As a starting point, scientists conducting an urban forest analysis to help identify so-called “tree-poor” neighborhoods and formulate a plan for planting and sustaining new trees.

Not surprisingly, the data revealed that Los Angeles’ “tree-poor” neighborhoods also tended to be its financially poor neighborhoods, a correlation that’s well-depicted in these maps.  In greater Los Angeles, tree canopies range from 3 percent in downtown to more than 50 percent in Bel Air-Beverly Crest.

It’s a common theme around the country, from Milwaukee to Washington D.C.: Poorer communities are less likely to have trees while richer communities not only have them but are often named after them.

L.A.’s Million Tree Initiative has targeted tree-poor communities as part of its effort, and Luna believes the additional data that Arbol University collected will help spread the tree wealth.

There are some caveats. For example, the satellite data isn’t very detailed, sometimes mistaking bushes for trees, Luna said. When Arbol University students went into the field, though, they measured not only the physical nature of the trees (its trunk diameter, the size of its crown, etc.) but other information such as the age of the tree and the amount of trash nearby that Luna says will add a social context to the data.

The importance of urban tree cover is becoming better known, with a growing number of studies documenting the economic value of urban trees.  In an era of increasing income disparity as well as health disparity, the uneven distribution of urban trees seems to be contributing these economic and wellness gaps.

According to California ReLeaf, street trees in Portland, Ore., increased the sale prices of houses by $8,870 and add $45 million to the city’s property values compared to the $4.5 million spent on maintaining the trees. There is also the obvious environmental value as the L.A. initiative estimates an additional 1 million trees would consume more than 1.27 tons of carbon dioxide in the next 35 years.

Yet, perhaps even more vitally, the tree canopies can affect the collective mental and physical well-being of a community. Most recently, a study by a renowned urban forest researcher found a link between high tree densities and a reduced risk for low-birth weight babies.

It’s a connection that needs more research to support it entirely, but it’s also a tantalizing hint of the importance of trees and nature in our social fabric. Do they not only have the ability to conserve energy but also the ability to heal?

Bristlecone pine image courtesy Flickr user Marshal Hedin.

During one of Arbol University’s excursions, one of the students asked what tree was the oldest in the world, Luna said. Inspired by that question, Luna rewarded his students at the end of the program by taking them to visit the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in eastern California, home to trees that are literally thousands of years old.

“It was exciting for the students to be walking around those ancient trees, especially since their neighborhoods only have very young trees,” Luna said. “It just gave them a better appreciation for trees and life, in general.”

Marc Dadigan is a freelance journalist based in Redding, California. He's currently living with the Winnemem Wintu tribe and writing a book about their spiritually guide salmon restoration project.

Essays in the Just West blog are not written by High Country News. The authors are solely responsible for the content.

High Country News Classifieds
  • WATER PROJECT MANAGER, UPPER SAN PEDRO (ARIZONA)
    Based in Tucson or Sierra Vista, AZ., the Upper San Pedro Project Manager develops, manages, and advances freshwater conservation programs, plans, and methods focusing on...
  • CAMPAIGNS DIRECTOR
    Southeast Alaska Conservation is hiring. Visit https://www.seacc.org/about/hiring for info. 907-586-6942 [email protected]
  • FINANCE & GRANTS MANAGER
    The Blackfoot Challenge, located in Ovando, MT, seeks a self-motivated, detail-oriented individual to conduct bookkeeping, financial analysis and reporting, and grant oversight and management. Competitive...
  • WADE LAKE CABINS, CAMERON MT
    A once in a lifetime opportunity to live and run a business on the shore of one of the most beautiful lakes in SW Montana....
  • CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, BOOKS, CULTURE AND COMMENTARY (PART-TIME, CONTRACT)
    High Country News is seeking a Contributing Editor for Books, Culture and Commentary to assign and edit inquisitive, inspiring, and thought-provoking content for HCN in...
  • STATEWIDE COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    ABOUT US Better Wyoming is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization that educates, organizes, and mobilizes Wyoming residents on behalf of statewide change. Learn more at...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    TwispWorks is a 501(c)3 that promotes economic and cultural vitality in the mountainous Methow Valley, the eastern gateway to North Cascades National Park in Washington...
  • CLEAN ENERGY ADVOCATE OR DIRECTOR
    Location: Helena, Montana Type: Permanent, full time after 1-year probationary period. Reports to: Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs. Travel: Some overnight travel, both in-state...
  • PROFESSIONAL GIS SERVICES
    Custom Geospatial Solutions is available for all of your GIS needs. Affordable, flexible and accurate data visualization and analysis for any sized project.
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Restore Hetch Hetchy, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization, seeks experienced development professional to identify and engage individuals and institutions who are inspired to help underwrite...
  • PUBLIC LANDS COUNSEL
    The successful candidate will be the organization's lead counsel on public lands issues, including reviewing federal administrative actions and proposed policy and helping to shape...
  • HUMAN RESOURCES DIRECTOR
    Solar Energy International (SEI) is a 501(c)3 non-profit education organization with a mission to provide industry-leading technical training and expertise in renewable energy to empower...
  • TRAINING MANAGER
    This is a full-time position based out of our Paonia office. This position is responsible for organizing all of Solar Energy International's renewable energy trainings....
  • RANCH HAND & HOUSING OPPORTUNITY IN DURANGO, CO
    Remodeled home with the opportunity to work off part of rent. Renter(s) must be available to help with lifting, irrigation & outdoor chores, 15-40 hrs...
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.
  • 10 ACRES OF NEW MEXICO HIGH DESERT
    10 Acres of undeveloped high desert land in central NM, about 45 minutes from downtown Albuquerque. Mixed cedar and piñon pine cover. Some dirt roadways...
  • OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    We are a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education, innovation, and collaboration....