Apr 19, 2023 - News

Seattle joins nation's first statewide tree canopy collaboration

Illustration of a tree branch growing in the shape of an upward trending line with an arrow.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Seattle is among the first cities in Washington to sign up for help from a new statewide collaborative aimed at expanding critical urban tree cover evenly in neighborhoods.

Driving the news: The launch of the statewide Washington Tree Equity Collaborative, the first of its kind in the country, was announced last week by American Forests and the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Why it matters: Much like buildings, streets and sewer lines, urban canopies are understood to be part of a city's critical infrastructure, cooling neighborhoods, saving lives and slowing climate change, according to American Forests.

  • But studies of tree cover in America’s cities show trees are sparser in neighborhoods with more low-income families and people of color.

By the numbers: American Forests' Tree Equity Score indicates that nearly 85% of urbanized neighborhoods in Washington have inadequate tree cover and 2 million people live in neighborhoods that have less than half the trees they need.

  • Despite a 2007 pledge by Seattle to increase its tree canopy to 30% by 2037, the city lost 255 acres of trees between 2016 and 2021, according to a Tree Canopy Assessment. In the 1970s, the city enjoyed a canopy cover of 40%.
  • At the formal launch last week, Mayor Bruce Harrell promised Seattle would plant 8,000 trees on both public and private properties; plant 40,000 trees in parks and natural areas; and perform maintenance on 40,000 trees over the next five years.

What they're saying: "We must invest like never before, in order to ensure our most vulnerable communities have cleaner air and are better protected from extreme heat," said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz.

  • "We look forward to raising Tree Equity scores from Spokane to Yakima to Seattle, and communities in between," said American Forests' President and CEO Jad Daley in a statement.

Catch up quick: American Forests and DNR launched the Tree Equity Collaborative less than eight months after President Biden signed into law the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which includes $1.5 billion for the USDA Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry Program.

  • This month, the Forest Service announced $250 million in state and territory awards, including $6 million for Washington State.
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