It’s hard to believe, but when Tacoma’s tree canopy was measured in 2011 at 19 percent, it was less than New York City’s (21 percent) and Baltimore’s (27.4 percent), according to imaging data from the University of Washington.
That should be a source of distress to local leaders and citizens – and a call to action – because a city’s tree canopy is considered one indicator of its environmental health. In Tacoma, lower-income neighborhoods are in particular need of more trees.
To be fair, both New York City and Baltimore have had major tree-planting campaigns in recent years. MillionTreesNYC, a public-private program, accomplished its goal last fall of planting one million new trees across the city’s five boroughs. While the city planted trees in parks and other public spaces, the rest were planted in private spaces by community groups, businesses and individual homeowners.
That can happen here, too.
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City officials are working on increasing Tacoma’s tree canopy, according to a News Tribune report Sunday by Rosemary Ponnekanti. The city has a goal of achieving a 30 percent canopy by 2030, and it’s spending $200,000 a year to further its urban forestry goals. Trees have been planted on Sixth Avenue, along Interstate 5 and in the McKinley Business District. And the city is planting more than 400 trees on the slope above Schuster Parkway because they can help prevent erosion and control stormwater.
Trees have other benefits, too. They take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen, and they provide shade and coolness – which will become increasingly important if the climate heats up as projected. They increase property values and make business districts more inviting.
Beyond that, trees have intangible value: They’re just plain good for the soul. Kids can climb them in the summer and play in piles of leaves in the fall. They inspire us to write poems about them and to get out binoculars to watch the wildlife they attract.
Citizens have a stake in helping city officials achieve their 30 percent canopy goal. Fortunately, the wheel has already been invented as to how they can team up.
In Oregon, the nonprofit Friends of Trees has a template for increasing tree canopy in urban spaces and getting citizens involved with not only planting trees but caring for them afterward. Crew leaders are trained to work with volunteers at tree-planting events, and that formula has led to more than 500,000 trees and native shrubs being planted in the Portland metro area over the past 26 years.
Executive Director Scott Fogarty says that although the group’s focus is on Portland, Eugene and Salem, it has branched out, so to speak, to Vancouver and has done some work in Olympia. Friends of Trees is willing to share its expertise with interested groups around the country.
A key element to success, he says, is whether a city is willing to invest in urban forestry and community-building organizations. Tacoma can answer yes to that: It already is budgeting money, and it has an existing network of neighborhood councils whose goal is improving their community.
If it can be done in Portland, it can be done here. It just takes city officials and citizens committed to making Tacoma more livable.