City trees bring joy and other benefits — The Nature Conservancy in Washington

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the understanding and approach of tree canopy efforts has shifted. For many of us, it has deepened our appreciation for the trees that are right outside our windows, along our streets and in our parks.

However, it also highlighted the deep inequities in our cities on who was able to access nature from or near their home.  Understanding where there may be canopy disparities is an opportunity to collaborate with communities to plant and steward trees, creating job opportunities and supporting climate resiliency.

Our team recently supported development of high resolution tree canopy abundance and composition data across cities and towns in Pierce, King, and Snohomish County. The data is available for partners and the public to access on iTree Landscape, an online tool that allows exploration of tree canopy cover and the benefits of trees. The results are not surprising: access to the climate, environmental, and health benefits of trees is not equally distributed. Lack of trees in a neighborhood is often correlated with other types of environmental and health disparities – from air pollution to flooding to life expectancy. 

Throughout the Puget Sound, there are organizations that are continuing to work safely on the ground with their communities to plant trees, build capacity and connect communities with the benefits of trees.  Here are a few highlights:

In Seattle, Dirt Corps focuses on accessible job training and greening communities through tree planting and restoration.  During the pandemic, in addition to virtual job training, they developed a COVID-safe approach to tree giveaways so that the canopy could continue to grow.  For example, they hosted a drive-through where community members would drive up and their pre-selected tree would be loaded into their car. 

Recently, with support from TNC, Dirt Corps has partnered with Congolese Integration Network in SeaTac to train youth in that community about urban forestry.  Right now, plans are underway to host the partnership’s first tree giveaway!

In Tacoma, Tacoma Tree Foundation turned to virtual engagement, hosting webinars and trainings to ensure the community could still access opportunities to learn and connect.  Tacoma Tree Foundation continued to lead the year-long South Sound Earth Day celebration with partners, hosting tree giveaways at local parks. 

The team continues to explore virtual engagement – hosting community conversations in the Tacoma Mall area focused on greening and trees.

In north King County, Whale Scout celebrated Orca Month in June 2020 by giving away “Orca Conservation Kits” featuring native plants and trees.  Volunteers used no-contact delivery to drop the kits off on doorsteps.

Trees are a key tool in building healthy urban spaces that are resilient to climate change by cooling our cities, filtering air and water pollution, and so much more.  Throughout the winter months in our region, our evergreens continued to work hard, contributing just as much to our mental health as our environmental.

Banner photo © Anna Snook, volunteer photographer

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