New study finds we need to plant 31.4 million trees per year in urban areas of the U.S.

Interest in growing trees in urban areas across the United States is on the rise. So is action, with government agencies and nonprofit organizations in Boston, Detroit, Phoenix and other cities organizing tree planting events and creating urban forestry plans.

But how many trees need to be planted every year — especially if we want to advance Tree Equity and slow climate change?

The magic number to plant is 31.4 million, according to a new American Forests study, done with Dr. David Nowak of the U.S. Forest Service. What would that look like? On average, trees would cover 43.3 percent of U.S. urban areas, which is a relative 10 percent increase from where we are today.

More Trees Are Needed in Urban Areas

Planting that many trees would help address two problems. One is that we are losing one tree for every two trees “established” (established means planted or naturally regenerated). The loss is mainly due to extreme weather events, insects and diseases; trees being removed for buildings; and improper planting practices. On this path, we are facing a projected loss of 8.3% in urban tree cover by 2060.

The other problem is that there are simply not enough trees in U.S. urban areas, particularly in socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods.

We need to address these problems because trees play a vital role in human wellbeing. They cool our neighborhoods; purify the air we breathe and lift our mood. When mature, trees shade buildings in the summer and block wind in the winter, reducing the use of air conditioners and heaters — saving people money on utility bills. Trees also help slow climate change. Our urban forests are responsible for almost one-fifth of the country’s captured and stored carbon emissions.

Photo Credit: Eyoel Kahssay / Unsplash

All People Deserve the Benefits of Trees

Planting trees at a rate of 31.4 million a year in cities nationwide would help create Tree Equity. Simply put, Tree Equity is about planting the right number of trees in the places that need trees the most so everyone can experience the benefits that trees provide.

It also would improve the economy by creating and supporting at least 228,000 jobs annually. Nearly 1 billion metric tons of carbon would be stored in the trees, too. And there would be a savings of nearly $1.6 billion a year from things like avoided asthma-related emergency room visits.

How You Can Help

  • Find out what the Tree Equity Score is for your neighborhood and use it to advocate for planting more trees. This will ensure that the benefits of trees are equitably distributed for generations to come.
  • Support federal and state investments in urban forestry so the annual $8.9 billion needed to plant 31.4 million trees is available. Visit our Action Center regularly to learn about proposed legislation you can support.
  • Consider a job in urban forestry. Read our Career Pathways Exploration Guide to learn how you can get into this profession.
  • If you’re a forestry employer, read our Career Pathways Action Guide to learn how you can address barriers to hiring and retaining diverse talent.
  • If you are a government agency, corporation or nonprofit, make a pledge to the US Chapter to plant trees in urban areas.

Quincy Jones (left) walks a neighbor through the planting plan in his Detroit neighborhood.

A Case Study: Who Benefits From Urban Trees?

Quincy Jones knew his neighborhood was going downhill. The 2008 sub-prime mortgage crisis had hit some of Detroit’s neighborhoods with the force of a bomb blast. Several years later, Jones’ community of Osborn — on the east side of the city — still looked gutted.

“There were blighted areas and open spaces,” said Jones, the executive director of the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance. “It didn’t look pretty.”

Then, in 2012, Jones heard that a nonprofit called The Greening of Detroit was planting trees in parts of the city that no longer had much greenery. He started volunteering with them in Osborn, going door to door and asking folks if they wanted trees on their blocks. Most did: Over the next two years, the group planted more than 170 trees in the community.

Those trees led to even more greenery: In 2016, American Forests partnered with the neighborhood, The Greening of Detroit and Bank of America to build the Osborn Outdoor Educational Center — a tree-lined park where there once stood four blighted, abandoned homes. Jones said residents and children go there all the time to enjoy the space, which includes a caterpillar made of tires for kids to play on, a trail, sitting areas and public art. And he said that all that green has tangibly revitalized Osborn.

“To me, getting trees signals development,” Jones explained. “It’s a way to improve the community.”