American Forests and the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are launching the Washington Tree Equity Collaborative, a statewide partnership to achieve Tree Equity across the Evergreen State by expanding and fortifying neighborhood tree canopy cover.
The Washington Tree Equity Collaborative will engage cities, community organizations and stakeholders during the next three years to build rigorous and inclusive urban forestry programs. The Collaborative will support projects that increase tree canopy and urban forest health, which help keep communities cool during heat waves and lead to improved human health outcomes.
Through the agreement, the DNR will utilize data provided by American Forests’ Tree Equity Score tool — which measures canopy coverage across socioeconomic lines in United States cities and neighborhoods — to coordinate delivery and improve the health of urban and community forestry across the state. According to the tool, nearly 85% of urbanized neighborhoods in Washington have inadequate tree cover, and over 2 million people have less than half the tree canopy needed to support the needs of their neighborhood.
“American Forests is proud to convene a growing movement of private and public partners who are committed to addressing Tree Equity to cool their neighborhoods, improve quality of life and support local economies,” President and CEO Jad Daley said. “Washington is a national leader in forestry, and with Commissioner Franz and the DNR’s commitment to the Tree Equity Collaborative, we look forward to raising Tree Equity scores from Spokane to Yakima to Seattle and communities in between.”
American Forests and DNR held a formal launch event with the City of Seattle on Thursday at Roxhill Park. Dozens of local urban and community forestry advocates gathered to hear from Daley, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, City of Seattle Office of Environment and Sustainability Director Jessyn Farrell and Duwamish Alive Coalition Community Engagement Team Member Willard Brown.
“Today’s event was a watershed moment for urban and community forestry in the Evergreen State,” Commissioner Franz said. “I’m proud to stand with leaders from Washington and beyond to not only recognize the threats facing our urban forests, but to commit ourselves to ambitious goals for Tree Equity across the state. We must invest like never before, in order to ensure our most vulnerable communities have cleaner air and are better protected from extreme heat.”
Members of the Tree Equity Collaborative will work together to leverage resources to expand the tools, trainings and capacity for technical assistance and implementation of projects geared toward Tree Equity. As part of the partnership, DNR and American Forests will strive to secure and leverage additional public and private resources in pursuit of equitably distributed forests and trees. The largest consumer co-op in the country has already taken notice of this new partnership.
“At REI Co-op, we believe everyone should have easy access to nature, yet 100 million Americans lack access to a quality green space close to home. When governments, nonprofits and business leaders come together to invest in Tree Equity, communities win,” said Taldi Harrison, director of government affairs at REI Co-op. “We’re grateful for the leadership of Commissioner Hilary Franz, Mayor Harrell and American Forests to increase opportunities to transform the cities and urban forests of Washington State.”
Mayor Harrell announced at the event Thursday that Seattle will be among the first Washington cities to join the Tree Equity Collaborative. He also signed a pledge on behalf of the City to:
- Over the next five years, 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.
- By the end of 2023, implement a policy to require three trees to be planted for every healthy, site-appropriate tree removed from city property. The same policy will require two trees to be planted for every tree that dies or is deemed hazardous or invasive.
- By the end of 2024, develop a Tree Canopy Equity and Resilience Plan for achieving Seattle’s tree canopy goals.
“Trees are critical to our health, climate and quality of life in Seattle, and our most recent Tree Canopy Cover Assessment shows that we have more work to do to protect and grow our tree canopy,” Mayor Harrell said. “Following the data and leading with equity, we’re advancing efforts to reverse this decline and address inequities in canopy distribution impacting frontline communities. Growing canopy cover takes time, but our urgency today reflects a healthier, greener Emerald City tomorrow, which is why I am proud to partner with the Department of Natural Resources, American Forests and leadership from other cities to support our urban forests.”
American Forests and DNR launched their Tree Equity Collaborative less than eight months after President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 into law. The Inflation Reduction Act includes an unprecedented $1.5 billion for the USDA Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry Program. On April 12, the Forest Service announced $250 million in state and territory awards, including $6 million for Washington State, as well as a notice of opportunity for funding for up to $1 billion in competitive urban and community forestry grants for nonprofits, state and municipal governments and other entities.
Photos and videos from the event are available at this link, as well as a copy of the signed memorandum of understanding between American Forests and the DNR.
About Tree Equity
While Seattle and the state of Washington are making a bold commitment to Tree Equity, the story of need is the same in nearly every city across the U.S. With few exceptions, trees are sparse in neighborhoods with fewer resources and more prominent in wealthier ones. Redlining policies dating back to the 1930s laid the groundwork for the tree inequity we see today between communities of color and white communities. Studies show neighborhoods that were redlined have fewer trees, leading to inequitable long-term outcomes that manifest themselves in diminished mental and physical health, extreme weather impacts and lower civic pride and connections in these neighborhoods. For example, trees have been shown to reduce stress, lower blood pressure and cut overall risk of chronic disease by up to 50%. Nationally, people living near greenery have reported a 41.5% decrease in feelings of depression and a 63% decrease in self-reported “poor mental health.” Trees also reduce heat-related illnesses and utility costs and generate wealth by creating tree-related careers.
This is why American Forests is leading a movement to mobilize communities and partners to invest in and improve Tree Equity nationally, and help ensure that well-maintained trees in the right places are essential infrastructure, much like streetlights, schools and sewers. To achieve full Tree Equity, we need to plant and grow 522 million trees across urbanized America, according to Tree Equity Score.
ABOUT AMERICAN FORESTS: American Forests is the first national nonprofit conservation organization created in the U.S. Since its founding in 1875, the organization has been the pathfinders for the forest conservation movement. Its mission is to create healthy and resilient forests, from cities to large natural landscapes, that deliver essential benefits for climate, people, water and wildlife. The organization advances its mission through forestry, innovation, place-based partnerships to plant and restore forests, and movement building. For more information visit: www.americanforests.org.
ABOUT WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES: Administered by Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, DNR manages more than 5.6 million acres of state-owned forest, range, commercial, agricultural, conservation, and aquatic lands. Of these, more than half are held in trust to produce income to support public schools and other essential services. State trust lands managed by DNR provide other public benefits, including outdoor recreation, habitat for native fish and wildlife, and watersheds for clean water.
Director of Policy Communications
Washington Department of Natural Resources