American Forests has been at the forefront of achieving Tree Equity for years. In fact, we coined the phrase because trees are often sparse in socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods and some neighborhoods of color. Simply put, Tree Equity is about ensuring every neighborhood has enough trees so that every person can reap the benefits that trees have to offer.
American Forests can now calculate a Tree Equity Score for urban areas – cities and nearby small towns that have at least 50,000 people – across the United States. The score is an indicator of whether the neighborhood has the right number of trees so all people experience the health, economic and other benefits that trees provide. And it is based on such factors as the existing tree cover, population density, income, employment, race and ethnicity, age and urban heat island effect (as measured by surface temperature).
City government employees, community activists, urban foresters and others are encouraged to use the scores, especially in areas where low tree cover overlaps with socioeconomic and environmental needs, to make the case for planting more trees in neighborhoods and allocating resources needed to do so.
After the case for more trees has been made, our new Climate & Health Action Guide can be used to optimize existing and create new urban forestry programs. Doing so will help improve scores, improve urban forests’ ability to slow climate change and protect public health. Actions include maintaining or increasing the extent of urban forests, reducing the urban heat island effect and other biological stressors, and lowering the risk of tree damage. For Rhode Island, there will be a companion piece to the guide that includes information on selecting trees to plant that can withstand the changing climate and provide the highest level of public health benefits. The guide is being developed by American Forests, the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science and the United States Forest Service.
A neighborhood with a low Tree Equity Score in Providence, Rhode Island. Photo credit: Eben Dente / American Forests
Dive Deeper Into Your Tree Equity Score
American Forests has developed Tree Equity Score Analyzer (TESA) for people in urban areas that want to dive deep into decision-making around Tree Equity and improve neighborhood scores. People can explore their score layer-by-layer to see how it relates to specific parcels of land. TESA also allows for the integration of additional data layers that are locally available. This will allow users to plan even more targeted tree planting projects that align with local climate, health and economic goals; identify tree planting opportunities; and to scope out different scenarios for tree projects. Rhode Island is home to the first TESA. Additional analyzers will be created in places where there is demand and investment.
Included in the Tree Equity Score Analyzer tool are carbon sequestration estimates and other co-benefits from the Impact Certification developed by our partner City Forest Credits and Dr. Kathleen Wolf, a social scientist who researches perceptions of nature in cities. The Impact Certification calculates the environmental, human health and equity benefits 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. The Impact Certification helps cities plan tree planting projects, develop different scenarios for the projects and identify parcel-specific planting opportunities.
Photo credit: James/ Adobe Stock.
Creating Tree Equity In Every Part of Every City
In the coming years, American Forests will deliver Tree Equity Score to all 486 Census-defined urbanized areas in the country, home to 70% of the U.S. population.
Tree Equity Score Pilot Locations
To date, we’ve created scores for all urban areas in Rhode Island, Maricopa County, AZ (home to Phoenix) and the San Francisco Bay area of California. All of these scores, which can be found at www.TreeEquityScore.org, show a need to plant and protect more trees in socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods. This need is mainly due to federal redlining − a legacy of disinvestment in communities of color and low-income neighborhoods.
Our government and non-profit partners in the regions where we’ve created scores are leading the charge by making urban forestry investments in places with the greatest need. The score range is 1 to 100, with 100 being the best from the standpoint of achieving Tree Equity:
Rhode Island scores range from 73 to 100.
Maricopa County, AZ scores range from 49 to 76.
San Francisco Bay Area scores range from 63 to 100.
Why Calculate Your Tree Equity Score?
A map of tree cover in any city in the United States is too often a map of race and income. Addressing socioeconomic and racial disparities in tree cover is one of the reasons to calculate your neighborhood’s Tree Equity Score. Trees are critical infrastructure that every person in every neighborhood deserves. Trees can help address damaging environmental inequities and climate change-induced problems, such as cardiovascular and lower respiratory tract illnesses which disproportionately affect vulnerable populations and people of color. By trapping air pollutants, trees help keep the air clean, which reduces the risk of such illnesses.
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Trees help reduce the urban heat island effect and protect public health
Trees minimize the chance of heat-related illnesses and death. They help protect people from heat (which is more intense now, due to climate change) by lowering temperatures and counteracting the urban heat island effect. This is significant, given that a 10-fold increase in heat-related deaths is expected in the eastern U.S. by 2050. Trees can help reduce surrounding air temperatures by as much as 9° F. And because cool air settles near the ground, air temperatures directly under trees can be 20 to 45°F cooler than air temperatures in nearby unshaded areas. Communities of color in cities are often exposed to higher temperatures within urban heat islands since many of the neighborhoods they live in have been historically subjected to racist policies such as redlining–resulting in a lack of trees. Tree Equity Score could be used to prioritize investment in such neighborhoods.
Trees can help reduce surrounding air temperatures by as much as 9° F. Photo credit: American Forests
Trees help slow climate change and reduce energy demand
In addition to protecting people from climate change-induced threats, planting trees can help slow climate change. A new American Forests study, conducted with Dr. David Nowak of the U.S. Forest Service, suggests planting 25 million urban trees annually in the United States will enhance the climate mitigation benefits of urban forests by adding an additional 353 million tons of carbon storage, reducing carbon emissions from energy production by 10.3 million tons/yr, saving $7.4 billion/yr in building energy costs. To ensure such benefits are experienced by those who need them the most, Tree Equity Score could be used to help make the case for planting trees in neighborhoods where individuals struggle to pay their energy bills or experience higher rates of unemployment.
Members of the Branches to Chances Return to Work Program planted trees in Wilmington, Delaware. Photo credit: American Forests
Learn more about why knowing your neighborhood’s Tree Equity Score matters.
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