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Cleveland Tree Coalition receives grant aimed at rebuilding the city's tree canopy

Cleveland Tree Coalition receives grant aimed at rebuilding the city's tree canopy
Posted at 5:13 PM, Feb 15, 2022

CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Tree Coalition is one step closer to hiring a full-time director responsible for raising awareness, support, and funding dedicated to rebuilding Cleveland’s urban tree canopy.

The Cleveland Foundation awarded the coalition a $150,000 grant to support staffing the position.

Cleveland’s tree canopy coverage is currently at 18%. A healthy urban tree canopy is at least 30% coverage. Cleveland’s coverage is far below the coverage found in other similarly-sized cities like Pittsburgh (41%), Washington, D.C. (38%), and Columbus (23%). The coalition said fuller coverage and a healthier canopy contributes to several benefits:

  • Trees improve air quality by removing carbon from the air, reducing respiratory illnesses such as asthma, especially among children.
  • Trees improve water quality by reducing stormwater runoff to sewers.
  • Trees reduce energy costs by lowering urban temperatures and providing shade in the summer.
  • Trees increase property values and improve business districts.
  • Cleveland’s tree canopy, limited as it is, provides $28 million in benefits to the city. The lack of trees can have significant and lasting effects.

Five years ago, the coalition was formed to help restore the canopy.

“We are a group of organizations including businesses, institutions, nonprofits, that are all working to plant trees in the city of Cleveland,” said Elizabeth Grace, the coalition chair and director of urban fundraising for the Western Reserve Land Conservancy. “So up until now, our work has taken place by our member organizations kind of lending staff to the coalition. And now we've just realized it's such a big problem that we really need to incorporate a full-time director to lead this work.”

Grace said community leaders are working to raise $100 million over the next 10 years to plant trees in parks, schoolyards, residential yards, along sidewalks, and near businesses.

“We've actually already had a few really significant commitments from Cuyahoga County, which is investing a million dollars a year, as well as the city of Cleveland [which] is investing a million dollars a year,” said Grace. “We are receiving a grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for $100,000. And now with the Cleveland Foundation funding, we're on our way to raising that money.”

She also said the member organizations of the coalition are planting around 5,000 trees a year with hopes of reaching the goal of restoring the tree canopy to 30% by 2040. However, the coalition’s 2020 Cleveland Tree Plan showed a continued loss of tree canopy, which means 28,400 trees would need to be planted per year to reach the coalition’s goal.

Now, the coalition is developing a comprehensive plan for the strategic investment of the millions of dollars it's hoping to raise and is needed to start a regional, large-scale tree initiative that builds equity and environmental resilience for all residents. The new director would oversee that operation.

“Through the course of the spring, our organization will host about five community tree plantings. We then have a tree crew that goes out and waters those trees all summer. So different organizations are planting throughout the spring and then in the fall we have a fall planting season too,” said Grace.

Grace said when it comes to planting trees, they specifically choose neighborhoods that need them the most.

“It's not just low tree canopy. It's also socioeconomic factors, health factors, neighborhoods where kids may have increased asthma rates,” said Grace. “We’ve done research showing that the lowest tree canopy neighborhoods in Cleveland directly correlate with neighborhoods that were redlined, that were then impacted by the foreclosure crisis and now have been affected by COVID-19. So, you know, it's just one hit after the other so we're trying to provide something that will help change that and move it in the other direction.”

In addition to work done during warmer months, crews also prune trees during the winter to ensure they’re in good shape as they grow. Lizzie Sords, the manager of Urban Forestry Programs, and Erica Henrichsen, NOWCorps Community Forestry Specialist at Western Reserve Land Conservancy, pruned trees at Arch Park in Slavic Village Tuesday.

“If we do this work now we can save the tree a lot of work to be done later on. So we want to set the trees up well for existing with the sidewalks, existing with people and not needing a whole lot of major work done when they're older. It's a lot cheaper for us to make the cuts now than it is to bring out a crew with climbers and need to make bigger cuts later on,” said Sords.

Sords said she’s looking forward to welcoming a director to the coalition.

“It's really exciting. I think there's a big appetite to tackle the tree canopy problems and a lot of solutions out there and it'll be really exciting to have somebody working on that full-time,” said Sords.

Anyone interested in applying for the director position of the Cleveland Tree Coalition should click here.

Jade Jarvis is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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