10-county study shows tree cover gaps in Calumet Region

Washington, D.C. (April 12, 2016) — At a kickoff event for a larger tree planting initiative throughout downtown Blue Island and near the forthcoming Cal-Sag Trail, 30 new trees will be planted on April 23, in Earth Month, and in time for Arbor Day on April 29. This event follows a study and more than a year of scientific analysis throughout the 10-county Chicago area of Illinois and Northwest Indiana to identify places most in need of increased tree canopy. With funding provided by the U.S. Forest Service, Bank of America and American Forests for both the analysis and tree planting efforts, the Chicago Region Trees Initiative (CRTI) implemented this analysis in collaboration with eleven partner organizations led by The Morton Arboretum in Lisle and including the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, the Nature Conservancy, Openlands, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and others.

The initial 30 trees will be planted by community volunteers along Canal Street between Western Avenue and Chatham Avenues – part of the soon-to-be-developed Cal-Sag Trail System. This trail system will be a series of paths that run along the Cal-Sag Channel and the Calumet River. When complete, the system will run from Lemont to Burnham for 26 miles across fourteen communities, providing recreation and connectivity between forest preserves, neighborhoods and business districts throughout the Calumet Region.

The second planting of 60 trees will take place along the Western Avenue corridor in downtown Blue Island, in support of a community effort to improve the commercial area. Western Avenue is the business hub for the city of Blue Island and is devoid of trees. Research shows that shoppers will travel farther to shop in business districts with mature trees and spend more time and money there. Business owners along Western Avenue have established a fund to improve the commercial district.  This tree planting, which includes concrete removal, will be one of the first efforts, with support from American Forests and Bank of America.

“Trees provide a wealth of valuable contributions to our communities: they clean our air and water, improve our health and help to manage storm water,” said Lydia Scott, director of the Chicago Region Trees Initiative and manager of the Community Trees Program at The Morton Arboretum. “CRTI is committed to protecting and planting trees across our region. Our preliminary research indicated that Blue Island would greatly benefit from increased tree canopy, and we are delighted to help organize a planting to improve the community.”

The Chicago Region Trees Initiative is a collaboration of organizations across the seven county Chicago metropolitan area working to improve the health of the urban forest and quality of life in the region. Also with support from American Forests and Bank of America, CRTI has been engaged in extensive research to develop a seven-county urban tree canopy analysis (UTC) that measures the composition and health of all the trees in our region, as well as ecological, economic and socioeconomic impacts of the region’s urban forests.

“We know that trees and green space contribute enormously to the health and well-being of people living in cities,” said Scott Steen, President and CEO of American Forests. “We’re delighted to be partnering with the citizens of Blue Island to enhance the beauty of their city while also providing all of the environmental, economic and social benefits that come with planting more trees.”

The UTC is being coupled with regional tree census data, local public and private property tree inventories and demographic data to assist landowners and managers across the region to set goals for canopy cover and tree species diversity.  The information gathered in the UTC study is used to target priority areas where trees are most needed.  The Millennium Reserve (Reserve) was identified as an area within the Chicago region where recreating urban forests can have significant benefits.

“We’re all responsible for the revitalization of the Chicagoland area, and viable green spaces for people to enjoy are essential to our communities,” said Paul Lambert, Chicago market president Bank of America. “By working with American Forests, The Morton Arboretum and other local partners on this restoration project, we’re investing in a landscape that will provide benefits to the city for generations to come.”

“The City of Blue Island is proud to be a part of a great initiative and is thankful to our partners for their generous support and commitment to restoring Canal Street and the Cal-Sag Trail,” said Blue Island Mayor Domingo Vargas. “We are especially thankful to the Chicago Region Trees Initiative, with the funding and guidance of American Forests, Bank of America and the U.S. Forest Service. These trees will help show off Blue Island’s commitment to recreation and help bring people from the trail to our businesses along Western Avenue. “

The Millennium Reserve is located in southern Cook County and is composed of 37 communities. This area was once the industrial engine of the Chicago region. In the mid-20th century, the Encyclopedia of Chicago reports that the region provided “95 percent of the metropolitan area’s metal industries, 72 percent in petroleum and coal products, 30 percent in chemicals, stone, clay, and glass products, and 21 percent in transportation equipment.” These jobs built many of the communities that are located within the Reserve, and supported a burgeoning population. The promise of jobs encouraged a highly diverse population to move into the region. Currently, over half of the residents in the area are African-American, and the Latino community is growing rapidly.


But much of the industry that formed the region has since been shuttered, which has led to an increase in unemployment and poverty, 15 percent of the Reserve’s population lives below the poverty line. The population is also highly vulnerable, as 30 percent of population is under 20 years of age. The region’s industrial past has often left it with a series of environmental justice issues, as runoff and pollution from these industries affect the area’s soil and water.  Blue Island, located within the Millennium Reserve, was selected as the first community to receive direct assistance. The City of Blue Island has a population of 23,700 and shares a border with the City of Chicago.



CRTI was established in 2013 as a collaboration of Chicago region partners working together to develop and implement a strategy that builds a healthier and more diverse urban forest by 2050. Achieving the ambitious goals of CRTI on a regional scale relies on partners working together to implement a comprehensive and inclusive plan based on the latest data and forest science. Leading organizations and partners from across the Chicago metropolitan region are working together on behalf of trees. CRTI is leveraging resources—funding, knowledge, skills, and expertise—to build a healthier, more diverse regional forest.

At Bank of America, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is critical to fulfilling our core purpose of making people’s financial lives better. A commitment to growing our business responsibly is embedded in every aspect of our company, from our policies and practices to our services, products, governance and employee benefits. An important part of that commitment is forming strong partnerships across sectors, including nonprofit organizations serving community needs, bringing our collective networks and expertise to achieve greater impact. We’re proud of our employees’ volunteer efforts, support of diversity and inclusion, and environmental and social responsibility. Across our company, we’re focused on simplifying banking and investing, advancing better money habits and making an impact in communities around the world. Learn more at www.bankofamerica.com/about and follow us on Twitter at @BankofAmerica.


American Forests restores and protects urban and rural forests. Founded in 1875, the first national nonprofit conservation organization in the country has worked in forests in all 50 states and in 45 countries and planted its 50 millionth tree last year. Our work includes greening urban neighborhoods challenged by economic and health issues, including Atlanta, Detroit and Miami. The impact of our projects has resulted in cleaner air and drinking water, restored habitat for wildlife and fish, and the removal of millions of tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Learn more at www.americanforests.org.



Lea Sloan | Vice President of Communications | 202.370.4509 | lsloan@americanforests.org