Detroit launches tree partnership, pledges to plant 75K trees over five years

Detroit launches tree partnership, pledges to plant 75K trees over five years

Detroit, once known decades ago as the "City of Trees," is attempting to reclaim that title and has pledged to plant 75,000 trees over the next five years through a new partnership that strategically adds trees in specific neighborhoods most in need of coverage and beautification.

As part of its new Tree Equity Partnership launched Tuesday, the city has partnered with American Forests, a nonprofit dedicated to restoring and protecting forests nationwide, along with the Greening of Detroit, a local nonprofit dedicated to planting trees in Detroit. The partnership, which also includes Detroit Future City and DTE Energy, has secured $30 million in funding that will also create 300 new jobs for tree planting and maintenance.

"I want trees to go where there's the most concrete," said Detroit Mike Duggan at a press conference Tuesday with U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow and other representatives. "It's going to be a more complicated process to target these areas... But can you imagine what the city would look like if you managed to do two things at once: planted 75,000 trees for the environment, but also created sites of beauty."

Until the 1950s Detroit was known as the "City of Trees" and boasted more trees per capita than any other industrial city around the world. The city's tree canopy then dwindled significantly between the 1950s and 1990s. Only about 24% of the city now is covered by trees when it should be 40%, according to the Greening of Detroit. Some areas have as little as 3% tree cover, The Detroit News reported in August.

American Forests defines tree equity as a measure of tree canopy coverage in relation to variables such as population income, density, age, employment status, race, temperature and health in a given land area. Areas of Detroit with low tree equity scores experience significantly hotter temperatures and poorer air quality, which can impact health outcomes.

"The greatest health threat from climate change is extreme heat and trees are our number one defense against extreme heat," said American Forests President Jad Daley. "They're also a powerful defense against air pollution, they're even important for our mental health."

In addition to making cities more attractive to potential residents, trees absorb carbon from the environment, said DTE Energy CEO Jerry Norcia.

"The mayor and his team are pointing us in the right direction to go plant these trees where they need to be planted to really make Detroit a much more beautiful place... and also an environmentally better place," Norcia said.

Research has shown that a lack of investment is one main reason why there is a large correlation between inequity and a lack of trees in Detroit's neighborhoods today. The growth of suburbs and discriminatory lending practices such as redlining all contributed to the lack of investment in urban neighborhoods. A lack of diversity also left the city's tree population vulnerable to diseases and insects such as the emerald ash borer.

The $30 million investment into the Tree Equity Partnership comes from the Inflation Reduction Act, which allocated $1.5 billion for the U.S. Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry Program. Stabenow, D-Lansing, helped secure the federal funding for the partnership and helped plant the first tree Tuesday morning.

"This project... is a lot more than just about planting trees. It's really about investing in people. It's about investing in neighborhoods, it's about the quality of life. It's about the climate crisis," Stabenow said.

Since its founding in 1989, the Greening of Detroit has trained and employed thousands of Detroit residents in tree care to work in the forestry and landscaping industries. Through the Tree Equity Partnership, the Greening of Detroit will hire and manage 300 more people to plant and maintain the 75,000 new trees.

Roughly 2,500 trees will be planted this fall then officials will scale up to 15,000 per year.

"It's more than just about planting trees and changing landscapes, but it's about changing lives," said Lionel Bradford, president of the Greening of Detroit.

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