New tree-planting projects to sprout in Washington with help from $36M in grants

A tree-lined street in Tumwater. The City of Tumwater is part of a group of more than a dozen communities to get money from the federal government to boost their urban tree canopy. (Laurel Demkovich/Washington State Standard)

Call it seed money. More than a dozen Washington communities — including Lynnwood — will receive a combined $36.3 million from the federal government for urban forestry projects.

The funding is part of about $1.1 billion in competitive grants the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded across the country last week to plant and maintain trees in urban areas. The program is meant to help combat extreme heat and climate change and improve access to nature.

The state Department of Natural Resources will also open applications this fall for another $7 million in grants to help communities grow their urban tree canopies. Applications for that money are due between October and early January.

Will Rubin, a DNR spokesperson, said the hope is that communities that weren’t able to secure any of the grants awarded last week can receive some of this funding.

“It’s an all-hands-on-deck statewide team effort,” Rubin said. “Everybody’s got an urban forest. Those are important no matter how big they are, no matter how big the town is.”

‘Sense of urgency’

The amount of tree-related federal funding coming into the state is “unprecedented,” but Washignton’s urban forestry program is not new, Rubin said.

However, he said there has been increased interest in it after the 2021 heat dome, where temperatures in the 100s left 159 people dead. The extreme heat also scorched trees.

“There’s been an added awareness and added sense of urgency since then,” Rubin said.

Studies show a lack of tree cover in cities contributes to hotter temperatures, greater pollution and higher noise levels.

A 2021 city of Seattle study found a 13% increase in a neighborhood’s tree canopy is associated with a half-degree reduction in temperature. It also found that the city lost 255 acres of canopy since a 2016 assessment and that neighborhoods that are less wealthy and have more minority residents have fewer trees.

Seattle isn’t alone. According to American Forests’ Tree Equity Score tool, nearly 85% of urban neighborhoods in Washington have inadequate tree cover.

American Forest partnered with DNR in April to launch the Washington Tree Equity Collaborative to expand tree cover in and around cities across the state.

Seeing green

Seattle, the city and county of Spokane, and the Snohomish Conservation District are among the communities receiving the most federal funding from the new urban forestry grants. Also receiving a grant award is the South Lynnwood Urban Forestry and Stewardship Program. This project will protect urban forests, riparian areas, and wetlands to expand healthy urban tree canopy within the South Lynnwood neighborhood. This project will develop a robust stewardship program and an intensive outreach and education component for the residents.

Seattle will receive $12 million to plant trees in neighborhoods across the city, train youth and restore forested areas. The city will also receive another $900,000 for tree planting and other work at the Delridge Native Forest Garden, a four-acre city-owned plot.

The money comes months after the city adopted a controversial new tree protection ordinance. Some tree advocates argued developers had too much sway over the rewrite of the policy.

Projects in the Spokane area will receive $12 million. In the city of Spokane, $6 million will go toward a goal of achieving 30% canopy cover by 2030. The county conservation district will use the other $6 million to expand forestry career opportunities through education programs and apprenticeships.

Garth Davis, the Spokane Conservation District forestry program manager, said the funding is an opportunity for the region’s future stewards of the land.

“It becomes a matter of bringing up a new generation of people who care for the land and teaching them the delicate balance of our natural resources and human interaction,” Davis said in a statement.

In Snohomish County, nearly $2.5 million will go toward planting more trees in Everett, Marysville and on Tulalip Tribal land.

Elsewhere, the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe received about $1.3 million to protect urban forest canopies on their ancestral lands and to launch related educational programs.

The full list of awardees can be found on the U.S. Forest Service website.

— By Laurel Demkovich, Washington State Standard

Washington State Standard is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Washington State Standard maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Bill Lucia for questions: Follow Washington State Standard on Facebook and Twitter.

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