Arizona urban forestry program receives $6 million to increase tree canopy

Apr 24, 2023, 4:05 AM | Updated: 8:30 am

(Twitter Photo/Phoenix Rising)...

(Twitter Photo/Phoenix Rising)

(Twitter Photo/Phoenix Rising)

PHOENIX — Arizona is investing $6 million in federal funding to increase its tree cover in disadvantaged communities and create more green spaces, the Department of Forestry and Fire Management announced.

The agency’s Urban and Community Forestry program will use the funds from the U.S. Forest Service to offer grants for municipalities, tribal organizations, non-profits and schools to increase shade, manage trees and assist with heat resiliency.

Trees can help keep people cool, as large-scale vegetated areas can be as much as 9 degrees cooler than non-green city centers, according to Phoenix. Trees near buildings can cool them down, potentially reducing energy-use costs, as well.

Phoenix’s urban trees also store 305,000 tons of carbon and removes 35,400 tons of carbon from the air every year, according to the city.

But trees only account for 9% of shade in Phoenix, and not every neighborhood sees the same coverage. As the tree canopy map shows, areas in southwest Phoenix have less than 10% tree canopy cover, while northeastern sections of the city have over 14%.

“Every Arizonan knows the value of a great shade tree on a hot Arizona summer day, but too many of our underserved communities are left defenseless from the summer heat,” Governor Katie Hobbs said in a press release. “With this award of $6 million from the USDA, the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management will invest in the health of our urban forests.

“Expanding tree canopy to provide much needed shade, clean our air and enhance the beauty of our public right-of-ways is one way we are building a more resilient Arizona, and this is just the start.”

Most of Arizona’s urban forests are located on private property, according to the Department of Forestry and Fire Management.

The federal budget, in recent years, has typically included roughly $36 million a year for the U.S. Forest Service Urban and Community Forestry Program, money that’s supposed to be distributed across all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.

But the federal government is now funding tree-planting and tree-care projects in a huge way. President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act made a historic $1.5 billion investment in urban forestry, prioritizing projects that benefit underserved communities.

That’s in addition to funding included for tree projects in Biden’s infrastructure law and the COVID-19 relief legislation known as the American Rescue Plan.

Tree advocates see this massive investment as a game-changer for urban communities that suffer from dirtier air, dangerously high temperatures and other challenges because they lack a leafy canopy overhead.

Phoenix — considered the hottest large city in the U.S. — and the surrounding metro area suffered the most heat-associated fatalities in a summer last year, with 359 such deaths.

Phoenix hopes to expand its shaded mile-long “cool corridor” pathways; initiate more neighborhood tree-planting on private property; maintain the city’s “urban forest” for the long term; and work with other communities and the state’s nursery association to address the tree care workforce shortage.

“This is a major accomplishment not only for the Department of Forestry and Fire Management’s Urban and Community Forestry program, but also for the state of Arizona,” DFFM Urban and Community Forestry Program Administrator Cori Dolan said in the release.

“This funding allows us to meaningfully improve urban forest conditions in our most vulnerable communities and ensure healthy tree benefits and green space allotments.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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Arizona urban forestry program receives $6 million to increase tree canopy