Duwamish River.

Duwamish River. Credit: Benjamin Cody

As the largest contiguous forest in Seattle, the West Duwamish Greenbelt is a prime example of urban greenspace. Unfortunately, this area sits on the banks of what has been determined by the Environmental Protection Agency to be one of the country’s most polluted waterways. The Urban Forest Restoration Program — a project of the Alcoa Foundation and American Forests Global ReLeaf Partnership for Trees — will aid in the improvement of the area’s water and air quality, benefitting local residents who, in some neighborhoods, have a life expectancy up to 13 years shorter than Seattle’s average. To improve watershed health and residents’ well-being, American Forests and the Alcoa Foundation are planting 5,300 trees and understory plants in the area.

Environmental Justice booth at the Duwamish River Festival.

Environmental Justice booth at the Duwamish River Festival. Credit: Chas Redmond

A key principle in play in the Urban Forest Restoration Program in West Duwamish is that of environmental justice — fair treatment with regard to policies impacting the health of all citizens. The Duwamish Valley area has been known for years as a region with high environmental health burdens relative to the rest of Seattle, but the Cumulative Health Impacts Analysis conducted last year by the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition/Technical Advisory Group and Just Health Action provided quantifiable evidence. The analysis identified instances of environmental injustice in the region, including high levels of air pollution and exposure to contaminated sites.

The South Park and White Center neighborhoods, which border the Duwamish Greenbelt, are some of the most marginalized in the Seattle area. This reforestation project aims to bring environmental justice to these areas, which for too long have borne the brunt of negative environmental effects not felt in more affluent areas of the city.

For more on the Alcoa Foundation and American Forests Global ReLeaf Partnership for Trees, visit www.americanforests.org/partnership-for-trees.