STAMFORD – The federal government has devoted $1.5 billion to attacking the complex problem of climate change using a simple solution.
The money is for saving and planting trees.
Last month the U.S. Forest Service announced an historic investment in the nation’s urban forests, selecting 385 grant proposals from cities and nonprofits looking to mitigate heat, provide shade, absorb stormwater, create wildlife habitat, filter the air, and improve property values, health, and all-around quality of life.
All 50 states, plus U.S. territories and tribal communities, acknowledge the benefits of trees, as evidenced by their submission of a total of 842 grant applications to plant and maintain them in urban areas.
The Forest Service funded fewer than half the applications.
Among them were proposals from Stamford, Norwalk, Bridgeport, New Haven, Hartford and a Connecticut conservation group, which together were granted more than $15 million.
The City of Hartford got the largest award in the state, $6 million, to remove dead and dangerous trees, replace them, improve deteriorated public parks, and provide job training in the green workforce.
The City of New Haven and the New Haven Urban Resources Initiative together got $3 million to assess that city’s tree canopy, come up with a master plan for expanding tree cover, and pay residents of disadvantaged communities to plant trees to mitigate “heat islands” – urban spots where asphalt and concrete absorb and re-emit heat, boosting temperatures.
A group called Groundwork Bridgeport got $1.7 million to develop data systems that will inventory trees, direct planting efforts, and monitor heat islands in disadvantaged communities.
The City of Stamford was awarded $1 million to establish trees in public rights-of-way in disadvantaged downtown neighborhoods. Youth groups will be trained to maintain the trees.
The City of Norwalk got $1 million to expand its Tree Canopy Master Plan, which works with residents to plot tree planting in places where there are few.
The Town of Stratford got $500,000 to assess and expand its tree canopy in an “environmentally challenged” area.
The Nature Conservancy received $2.2 million to increase awareness of the needs of communities with little tree cover, share resources, expand funding opportunities, and coordinate solutions statewide.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, 84 percent of Americans live in the areas where trees will be planted and maintained using the grant money. They are trees for where people live, not where they recreate, according to the Forest Service.
The money, part of the Inflation Reduction Act, comes when American cities are battling heat waves, drought, excessive rain, and other effects of global warming.
Urban areas get hit hard, according to the Forest Service. All the paved surfaces generate and trap heat, and contribute to flash flooding, since there is little exposed earth to absorb rain water.
Research shows that tree cover reduces temperatures 11 degrees to 19 degrees in urban areas, according to the Forest Service.
Studies associate urban forests with better health, reduced crime, an influx of investments, and better economic opportunity, including increased property values.
The call for more trees has come from Washington, D.C., where the White House Council on Environmental Quality has a goal to cut in half, by 2030, the number of Americans who have no access to nature.
The call for more trees has come from Hartford, where Gov. Ned Lamont in April announced he wants to increase tree cover in Connecticut’s disadvantaged communities 5 percent by 2040.
Lamont before that had been criticized for allowing the cutting of trees along roads, highways and at a state park, which happened because insects, disease and drought damaged and killed tens of thousands of trees in Connecticut.
The call for more trees has come from the Stamford Board of Representatives, which last November asked Mayor Caroline Simmons to inventory city trees to determine their health, purchase a water tank truck, and plant new trees downtown.
City representatives said they were pushing for the inventory because the Land Use Bureau had tried to do it, without success, for a decade. Representatives said that, even when the city plants trees, it does not have the resources to maintain them.
Tuesday night the Stamford Planning Board unanimously approved receipt of the $1 million U.S. Forest Service grant. The Board of Finance is expected to approve it Wednesday night, and the Board of Representatives at its Nov. 8 meeting.