By Andrew Bell, Policy Intern

Hannover/Hildesheim region, Germany.
Hannover/Hildesheim region, Germany. Credit: Deutsche Umwelthilfe.

The Partnership for Trees’ torch was carried fervently into 2013, furthering a continual success characterized by community engagement and a thoughtful approach to outreach. With over 177,000 trees planted, 19 projects implemented and 1,200 acres of land restored, American Forests and Alcoa Foundation kept the foot on the gas in revitalizing the world’s green places. At the same time, the collaboration continued to make additional impacts that go well beyond the numbers.

“Environmental justice,” just hearing the phrase alone could easily conjure imagery of defending critically endangered wildlife, combatting illegal timber harvest and cracking down on reckless polluters. In reality, environmental justice is about far more than looking out for our treasured ecosystems. Rather, it’s about extending the bounds of stewardship to those who are most in need of a healthy and thriving environment. In New York, the Partnership for Trees is doing just that.

A severe ice storm in 1998 knocked the town of Massena’s urban forest coverage back a sizable amount. But, in collaboration with the Town of Massena Electric Department and their Green Efficient Massena program, a comprehensive effort is underway to ensure that the town continues to enjoy restored urban canopy. In 2013’s installment, 530 trees were planted over 40 acres of land in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. These urban trees go well beyond providing relief in the aesthetic sense; research shows that trees placed properly around buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30 percent, and that 100 million mature trees planted around residences can save 2 billion dollars annually in energy expenses.

For families that live from paycheck to paycheck — or even struggle to put food on the table — every dollar counts. And, in cases like Massena’s, communities can rely on their forests and trees to help stay the course in such taxing times. Such communities stand to benefit the most from what urban forests have to offer and, therefore, often deserve to be at the forefront of conservation efforts. Making room at the table for all is what environmental justice is truly about, and the Partnership for Trees is wholly dedicated to such a principle.

In Germany, American Forests and Alcoa Foundation found a different way to approach environmental justice. The country’s Hannover/Hildesheim region historically produced over 1,000 different kinds of apples, thanks to an abundance of rich biodiversity in their fruit tree orchards. Today, that plethora has been reduced to just several, while both wildlife and citizens alike suffer from the restrictive monoculture farming. To answer the call, the Partnership for Trees teamed up with German nonprofit Deutsche Umwelthilfe to implement their Meadow Orchards in Public Green Spaces initiative, planting 500 trees to help restore the region’s historically distinct biodiversity. These trees were planted across a variety of public lands, including schools and neighborhood gardens, so that they are easily accessible for all. This includes providing food for low-income families and opportunities for young students to be exposed to tree-care and environmental stewardship. Many of the tree species planted provide homes for wildlife, such as owls and dormice. As a whole, the Hannover/Hildesheim region’s fruit tree orchards can now serve both their community and their wildlife, while taking a resounding step forward in recapturing their rich, biologically diverse heritage.