Wu Announces $11 Million Federal Grant To Enhance Boston’s Tree Canopy

Special to the Times

Mayor Wu joined Senator Ed Markey last week to celebrate that the City of Boston has received $11.4 million in funding from the U.S. Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry Grant. This grant will bolster Boston’s workforce development in urban and community forestry and reduce technical and financial barriers to growing Boston’s tree canopy. This funding will support improving tree care and accessibility; supporting workforce development opportunities, administered through PowerCorps Boston; and expanding Boston’s newly created Tree Alliance. The City has received this funding through the Inflation Reduction Act.

“Having access to tree coverage throughout our neighborhoods provides cool, green, healthy spaces for residents to thrive,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “I’m grateful to the U.S. Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry Grant for their generous support to grow our workforce and expand our canopy across Boston to increase the livability of our neighborhoods.”

“We shook the money trees, and we got green for green,” said Senator Edward J. Markey. “I am so proud to celebrate $22 million in federal funding from the Inflation Reduction Act for urban and community forestry and for equitable access to green spaces in Massachusetts. Extreme heat has been the deadliest symptom of climate change in this country to date, and frontline communities are feeling the burn without relief. This funding will help plant new seeds of environmental justice in communities that have been fighting for fresh air and fresh investments, and will create new green jobs and more resilient communities across our Commonwealth.”

“This is the kind of green investment that we need to see more of. The return gets us jobs, cleaner air, and beautiful neighborhoods,” said State Senator Lydia Edwards.

Improving Tree Care and Accessibility

This funding will be used for improving tree care and accessibility on Boston’s sidewalks. The City is initiating strategies to proactively maintain the existing tree canopy and find creative ways, such as using flexible and porous paving materials, to increase tree canopy while providing accessible walking surfaces for those with visual and mobility limitations. Throughout the grant period, the City will meet quarterly with accessibility advocates to give updates and receive feedback to improve procedures and target future work.

Supporting Workforce Development Opportunities

In 2022, the City released the Urban Forest Plan (UFP) to equitably grow the urban forest and the Heat Resilience Solutions Plan to address the impacts of extreme heat driven by climate change. Together, the plans provide an approach to build safe, healthy, and resilient communities. This funding will facilitate three approaches to build inclusivity and increase access to trees and their benefits in historically marginalized communities. These approaches will ensure that our streets are accessible and support growth of urban street trees; build community resilience through workforce development opportunities for young people from Boston’s environmental justice communities; and foster community with residents and community based organizations through tree planting and care. 

As part of the City’s commitment to equitably growing the urban forest, PowerCorps Boston provides training in climate resilience and the green industry for young adults from environmental justice communities. An “earn and learn” program, PowerCorps Boston pays members to participate in hands-on training that prepares them for living-wage careers. Over the course of a 6-month training program, PowerCorps Boston teaches Corps members a variety of transferable soft skills and technical forestry skills. PowerCorps Boston aims to promote workforce development for youth in growing industries and support environmental stewardship and City of Boston climate policies. 

This grant will support the expansion of PowerCorps Boston so the program can run two cohorts a year with 50 participants each. These funds will also allow for increased stipends, program necessities and incentives, and two new positions to direct and manage the program. 

Expanding Boston’s Tree Alliance

Lastly, this funding is aimed at expanding the community Tree Alliance Program. With over 60 percent of Boston’s trees privately owned, the City is working with the community to expand  Boston’s urban forest. In May, the City of Boston launched the Community Tree Alliance Program to support growth and care of the urban forest on private lands, focused on under-canopied neighborhoods. Since the program launch, the Alliance has implemented a new microforest with over 90 trees, 200 shrubs, and perennial plants of over 30 species at the Boston Nature Center in Mattapan. The City initially allocated funding for the Tree Alliance for three years. The new federal funding will allow for increased planting and maintenance, expanded public education and an outreach program, and bolstered program staff capacity through new and extended existing staff positions.

Boston’s urban forest is a critical part of the City’s fabric, culture, and character. As the largest city in the state, trees play an essential role in balancing the impacts of urbanization with green infrastructure. While Boston’s urban forest has remained stable overall in recent history at 27 percent coverage, the canopy disproportionately varies across neighborhoods. In environmental justice communities including Chinatown, Dorchester, East Boston, Mattapan, and Roxbury, tree canopy coverage is lower than other neighborhoods in Boston. 

Through funding from the Inflation Reduction Act, the Forest Service has selected Boston as one of 385 grant proposals that are working to increase equitable access to trees and green spaces, and the many benefits they provide. All of the funding will benefit historically disinvested communities, and funded proposals are located in all 50 states, two U.S. territories, three U.S. affiliated Pacific islands, and in several tribal communities. 

In 2022, Mayor Wu provided funding for a new Urban Forestry Division within the Boston Parks and Recreation Department. Since the creation of this division, the team has planted 1,226 new street trees, pruned 3,301 trees to help improve and preserve the existing canopy, and treated 1,165 mature ash trees to protect them against the Emerald Ash Borer. Additionally, the team has hired seven new team members including a Director of Urban Forestry, updated the Street Tree Inventory, and supported improved public access.

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