Phoenix Pledges Tree Equity For All Neighborhoods By 2030

By Christina Estes
Published: Thursday, April 22, 2021 - 2:53pm

trees in Phoenix
Christina Estes/KJZZ
Some Phoenix residents are pushing city leaders to do more to add trees and shade.

Phoenix is partnering with the nation’s oldest conservation nonprofit to achieve what the group calls “tree equity” by 2030.

The nonprofit American Forests describes tree equity as making sure all neighborhoods get the benefits trees provide. Through a memorandum of understanding with Phoenix, the group will focus on growing urban forests in heat vulnerable communities, including Councilmember Carlos Garcia’s district.

“We know heat does not affect everyone equally,” he said during Wednesday’s council meeting. “Some south Phoenix neighborhoods are 10 degrees hotter than those in central Phoenix or in other places.”

American Forests says urban forests capture and store almost one-fifth of the country’s carbon emissions.  

“We have an ambitious goal in our city of enhancing our urban forest and we know that trees are not just beautiful but they create healthier communities,” said Mayor Kate Gallego. “We are going to be well aware that we are a desert community and looking towards trees that are appropriate and low water use for the city of Phoenix.”

"We are going to be well aware that we are a desert community and looking towards trees that are appropriate and low water use for the city of Phoenix."
— Kate Gallego, Phoenix mayor

According to a city report, achieving tree equity means “all of Phoenix’s neighborhoods will reach a minimal standard of tree canopy cover that is feasible and appropriate for the city’s desert climate and conditions by 2030.”

Not included in the report is the baseline canopy target figure that can be found on American Forests’ website. The target is 15% for desert and then adjusted based on population density to estimate a neighborhood goal.

The 15% baseline is lower than the 25% tree and shade canopy goal that the City Council approved in January 2010 as part of its Tree and Shade Master Plan.

Earlier this month, a city report said Phoenix is "far short of what is needed to reach 25 percent canopy" and meeting the goal will require about 10,000 new trees to be planted each year — more than double the current rate. The council approved an online portal for individuals and businesses to donate money to plant trees. 

American Forests and the city will work with neighborhood groups, nonprofits, businesses and researchers to identify inequities and attract funding to preserve existing trees and plant new ones.

The memorandum of understanding is expected to last five years. The partnership will use American Forests’ impact model by focusing on aspects:

    1. Stakeholder Facilitation — The social, public health and environmental benefits trees provide impact both individual people and governmental services on many levels. The City and American Forests will collaborate and invite further collaboration with neighborhood and community groups, nonprofit organizations, industry professionals, academic researchers and county, state, tribal and federal agencies also wanting to contribute to achieving a citywide Tree Equity goal. Facilitation and other roles will be determined based on staffing capacity and funding.
    2. Planning — The partnership will use as-needed technical resources such as existing Phoenix tree canopy inventories and assessments, walk-shed and “cool corridor” mapping analyses, the findings of the urban forest climate vulnerability assessment recently undertaken by the U.S. Forest Service (Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science) and American Forests’ Tree Equity Score Analyzer, Vibrant Cities Lab and Career Pathways Action Guide. The objective is to identify existing inequities in tree canopy cover throughout Phoenix and optimize the urban forest for future climate scenarios to protect public health. Similar scientific resources that optimize protection of existing trees and planting new ones for public health and climate change outcomes will be used whenever possible.
    3. Advocacy — Partners will cooperate with one another to engage state and federal policy makers, agencies and civic leaders to attract resources and advance programs that help every census block group neighborhood achieve a passing Tree Equity Score.
    4. Funding — Existing levels of funding for urban forestry are inadequate. Partners to this agreement will collaborate amongst themselves and with other stakeholders to align the funding needs necessary to achieve Tree Equity with the interests of governmental, corporate and philanthropic funding entities as appropriate. Partners will also make use of innovative funding alternatives such as exploring environmental impact investing and carbon credits.
    5. Planting and Protecting — Achieving Tree Equity across the Phoenix region will be a function of preserving existing tree canopy and planting new trees in locations where their climate and public health benefits are maximized. Tree planting and maintenance work also offers the opportunity to advance Tree Equity even further by intentionally training and hiring people from population groups who have typically been under-represented in urban forestry careers.
    6. Communicating and Replicating — Achieving Tree Equity will only be achievable and sustainable if the benefits and progress of doing so are widely shared and made known. Partners will identify strategic opportunities and milestones and use the commercial and proprietary broadcast, print and electronic media resources available to them to promote Tree Equity efforts.
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