Credit: Melissa Montalvo

What's at stake?

Experts say planting trees is one of the best things Fresno leaders can do to help residents deal with rising heat and temperatures from climate change. This proposal would plant up to 35,000 trees.

More trees could be on their way to Fresno’s highest-need neighborhoods, thanks to a proposal to plant 1,000 trees per year in the city.

Introduced by Fresno City Council Vice President Tyler Maxwell, the “City of Fresno Tree Policy” would commit the city to plant a minimum of 1,000 drought-tolerant trees on public property each year until 2035 and provide youth jobs in tree maintenance and care, as well as creating a rebate program to incentivize home and business owners to plant more trees.

The new policy, developed in partnership with CalFire’s Urban Forestry division, would bring more “tree equity” and ensure that all Fresno residents can enjoy the health benefits that trees and tree canopy coverage provide. Priority for tree planting will go to neighborhoods that show a lack of access to green space and high rates of concentrated poverty, city leaders said on Tuesday.

“It’s something as simple as trees, or the lack thereof, that oftentimes makes our One Fresno seem like two Fresnos or multiple Fresnos,” Maxwell said during an announcement of the proposal.

Research shows that trees play a vital role in keeping neighborhoods cool during heat season, in addition to physical and mental health benefits. Some city neighborhoods, particularly those with fewer trees, see fewer benefits from trees.

An analysis by the nonprofit conservation group American Forests found that whiter, more affluent communities in cities across the country, including Fresno, tend to have more trees, while low-income neighborhoods and communities of color tend to have fewer.

Furthermore, research on the urban heat island effect – areas of the city that are hotter than their surrounding area due to the lack of green space and parks – indicates that people who live in the hottest parts of a city are more likely to be poor.

Maxwell said he hopes the new tree policy will bridge the “stark contrast of the tree canopy” between north and south Fresno neighborhoods.

“Sometimes, people just have to look outside their window to see which one of those Fresnos they find themselves living in, and that’s not acceptable,” he said.

More trees, youth jobs for Fresno

If passed, the 1,000 tree initiative would increase the city’s tree canopy by 10% by 2035.

To determine high priority areas, staff would use tree equity scoring criteria and partner with the Parks, Recreation, and Arts Commission and the city council.

An initial allocation of $400,000 would fund the planting of new practical, aesthetic, and drought-resistant trees, plus their required irrigation, labor, and maintenance.

In addition, the city would commit $50,000 annually from various funding sources to hire youth, 16 to 30 years old, in partnership with the One Fresno Workforce Development Program to help plant the trees while learning about jobs in urban forestry.

The incentive fund would dedicate $50,000 for one-time $200 reimbursements to Fresno residents and businesses that want to plant approved trees on their property.

One major partner in planting more trees in Fresno is the nonprofit organization Tree Fresno. The nonprofit has planted approximately 50,000 trees since 1985 and has recently partnered with Mayor Jerry Dyer’s Beautify Fresno initiative on planting trees throughout the city. The organization runs a Green Team youth ambassador program with the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce to train young men in urban forestry.

Mona Cummings, chief executive officer of Tree Fresno, celebrated the announcement of the new tree policy on Tuesday, saying that trees are not only beautiful but a practical tool to help cool temperatures and with offsetting the city’s urban heat islands.

“They’re working for us to improve air quality to reduce pollution particles in the air, which improves the quality of life for our children and our greater community,” Cummings said.

How many trees does Fresno need to reach ‘tree equity?’

Last year, American Forests released an analysis of tree equity in major U.S. cities, which calculates the relationship between tree canopy coverage, surface temperatures, and the number of people living in a neighborhood, plus their income, employment, race, age, and health factors.

The report found that the city of Fresno needs about 1.9 million trees to achieve “tree equity,” where all residents have equitable access to the same tree canopy coverage.

City leaders estimate that Fresno has approximately 158,000 trees and plants between 100 and 200 trees per year. In 2022, the city estimates it will plant around 600 trees, said Dyer, thanks to initiatives spearheaded by Maxwell, Beautify Fresno, and the state’s Transformative Climate Communities funds that support the city’s goals to serve communities most impacted by pollution.

City leaders hope the new initiative will further help improve air quality.

“It’s no secret that Fresno has the second-worst air quality in the state of California,” said Dyer.

One challenge, city leaders say, comes in the form of complaints from residents complaining about the city’s trees – ranging from trees that are dead or dying, trees with shallow root systems that raise the sidewalk, trees that require a lot of water, or trees that shed a lot of leaves or debris.

“What I have found is that in many neighborhoods, people take for granted the presence of quality trees,” Dyer said. “And that is why this initiative is so important to our city.”

With the proposed policy, the city pledges to keep Fresno on a 10-year tree maintenance cycle, which is lower than the historical 20 or more years.

The City Council will vote on the proposed policy resolution during Thursday’s city council meeting. If passed, tree planting would commence in fiscal year 2023.

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Melissa is a labor and economic inequality reporter with The Fresno Bee and Fresnoland.