The United States Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service will distribute a record US$1 billion in urban forest grants this year, supporting President Joe Biden’s pledge to halve the number of Americans without access to parks and nature by 2030.
Bolstered by the Inflation Reduction Act, the funding is more than 27 times what was allocated last year, reports Smart Cities Dive. Dollars will be awarded to communities across the country to “plant and maintain trees, combat extreme heat and climate change, and improve access to nature in cities, towns, and suburbs where more than 84% of Americans live, work, and play,” the Forest Service said in a release.
The Forest Service said it received 842 applications requesting a total of $6.4 billion in funding—“an indication of the urgent nation-wide need to plant and maintain more urban trees.” The agency selected 385 proposals from entities working to increase equitable access to green spaces and the benefits they provide for cooling cities, improving air quality, and promoting food security and public health and safety. Critically, urban forests are also carbon sinks and havens for biodiversity.
Noting that July, 2023 was “the hottest on record in communities around the country,” a Forest Service infographic shows [pdf] that temperatures in urban areas with tree canopies are 6 to 10.5°C (11 to 19°F) lower than in areas with no tree cover. The infographic also pledges that 45% of the funded projects will “create and sustain living-wage jobs in green industries and provide new career pathways into urban forestry and agriculture for youth and adults.”
As well, “36% of the projects will empower local communities, especially those experiencing inequitable environmental and social burdens, to participate in decision-making that improves conditions, locally, regionally, and nationally.”
Some 90% of the projects involve tree planting and maintenance, while 60% support “climate-adapted” plantings to increase community resilience to climate impacts like storms, droughts. and disease outbreaks.
Jad Daley, president and CEO of non-profit American Forests, which received $50 million in urban forest grants, celebrated this year’s round of awards as marking “a new era for urban forestry in America—one where cities and their partners will finally have equitable and robust access to the resources and technical assistance they need to plant trees and care for their existing tree canopy in ways that will remedy the systemic inequity of tree cover across our cities by income and race.”
The Forest Service prioritized equity using the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool. “This geospatial mapping tool identifies disadvantaged communities that face burdens in the categories of climate, energy, health, housing, including nature deprivation, legacy pollution, transportation, water and wastewater, work force development, as well as associated socioeconomic thresholds,” the release said.