Trees in the U.S. absorb 17.4 million tons of air pollutants, preventing 670,000 cases of asthma and other acute respiratory symptoms annually.
Trees in the U.S. absorb 17.4 million tons of air pollutants, preventing 670,000 cases of asthma and other acute respiratory symptoms annually. Credit: James/ Adobe Stock.

AMERICAN FORESTS has been talking about Tree Equity for a few years. In fact, we coined the phrase. Simply put, Tree Equity is about ensuring every city neighborhood has enough trees so that every person benefits from them. In most cities, trees are sparse in low-income neighborhoods and some neighborhoods of color.

American Forests now has a tool for determining the Tree Equity Score for urban neighborhoods. Each score is based on the existing tree cover and tree cover potential, climate projections, development density, income, employment and race. American Forests’ goal is that, in 100 of America’s cities, every neighborhood will achieve a passing Tree Equity Score by 2030.

This fall and winter, scores for all neighborhoods in Phoenix, Rhode Island, the San Francisco Bay Area, Miami, Seattle and Houston will be finalized. American Forests plans to determine the scores for all city neighborhoods within the coming years. Tree Equity Scores could be calculated for up to 150,000 city neighborhoods, where 70% of people in the U.S. live.

City government employees, community activists, urban foresters and others will be able to use the scores to make the case for planting trees in the neighborhoods that need them the most, and allocating the resources needed to do so.

They then can use the new Climate and Health Action Guide to help inform their strategy for improving the scores. Tactics may pertain to maintaining or increasing the extent of urban forests, reducing the impact of extreme heat and other biological stressors, and lowering the risk of tree damage. The guide, written by American Forests and the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science, will be finalized this fall.

Also this fall, American Forests will launch, a website where anyone can access the completed Tree Equity Scores. Visitors also will be able to enter details about a planned tree planting project and then find out how much that project would increase a Tree Equity Score. This website also is where the action guide will be available, either to read online or download.

A companion piece to this new tool will be the Impact Certification Score being developed by City Forest Credits and Dr. Kathleen Wolf, a social scientist who researches perceptions of nature in cities. This particular score will be based on the environmental, human health and equity impacts of tree planting projects. Cities rarely report on the impacts associated with their tree planting projects, other than the number of trees planted and volunteer hours contributed.

Climate change and public health are the two reasons American Forests was driven to create the Tree Equity Score tool, which was done in partnership with the University of Vermont. Trees help protect people from heat (which is more intense now, due to climate change) by lowering temperatures and counteracting the urban heat island effect, in which roads, rooftops and other darkly-colored surfaces absorb heat and make their surroundings warmer. This is significant, given that a 10-fold increase in heat-related deaths is expected in the eastern U.S. by 2050.

Climate change also means more harmful gases in the air. City trees can improve air quality by trapping air pollutants, which keeps the air clean, limits the formation of ground level ozone, and reduces cardiovascular and lower respiratory tract illnesses. Trees in U.S. metropolitan areas and small towns absorb 822,000 metric tons of air pollutants, preventing 575,000 cases of acute respiratory symptoms annually.

American Forests looks forward to helping you determine your scores and create Tree Equity in your city.