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Trees can have economic and environmental benefits. The group American Forests looks at how different metro areas stack up based on a "tree equity score."
The cities that could see the greatest health, economic and climate benefits by increasing their tree canopies are highlighted in a report that a national conservation organization released this week.
American Forests issued "tree equity scores" for tree distribution across the U.S. The scores combine socioeconomic status, existing tree cover, population density and other information for 150,000 neighborhoods and 486 metropolitan areas to determine whether locations have enough trees to provide optimal health, economic and climate benefits.
The group says that the 20 large metropolitan areas with populations of 500,000 or more that could see the most gains from having more tree cover include:
- Columbus, Ohio
- Fresno, California
- Fort Worth, Texas
- El Paso, Texas
- Hempstead, New York
- New York City
- Jacksonville, Florida
- Los Angeles
- Memphis, Tennessee
- Oklahoma City
- Portland, Oregon
- Sacramento, California
- San Diego
- San Jose, California
Achieving tree equity nationwide, the organization said, will require planting 522 million trees, coast to coast, in places with 50,000 or more residents. That would sustain 3.8 million jobs and annually absorb 9.3 million tons of carbon"—the equivalent of taking 92 million cars off the road, it added.
More Tree Benefits
In a paper, researchers for the U.S. Department of Agriculture wrote that while the costs of maintaining "urban forests" vary among cities, the green canopies offer common environmental, economic and social benefits. Trees help reduce air and water pollution, improve heating and cooling costs, and increase real estate values, they wrote. Other benefits include reduced crime rates and promoting active lifestyles and neighborhood pride.
Last year, U.S. cities, companies and nonprofits committed to planting and restoring 855 million trees by 2030 as part of the Trillion Trees Initiative, a global undertaking to encourage the capture of carbon and slow the effects of global warming. The U.S. group, which includes Microsoft and Mastercard, is focusing on urban plantings to improve air quality in communities that have been disproportionately affected by pollution and climate change.
Although tree-planting initiatives are popular, protecting and restoring existing forests rarely attracts the same level of support. Some scientists say protecting forests is an essential strategy in the fight against climate change that has not received enough attention. Trees capture and store massive amounts of carbon, and unlike some strategies, they don’t require costly or complicated technology.
Jean Dimeo is the managing editor for Route Fifty.