Feds pledge more than $1 billion to plant trees in cities

By: - September 14, 2023 1:11 pm

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announces awards to help communities with tree-planting programs. (Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced hundreds of grants that total about $1.13 billion to plant new trees and maintain them in cities across the country.

Tom Vilsack, the federal agriculture secretary and former governor of Iowa, traveled to Cedar Rapids Thursday to highlight the spending, which is being funded through last year’s Inflation Reduction Act.

In 2020, Cedar Rapids was overwhelmed by a thunderstorm with significant straight-line winds — known as a derecho — that destroyed much of its tree canopy.

The city estimates that up to 100,000 trees were damaged or destroyed by winds that peaked at about 140 mph and persisted for more than 45 minutes. It has since launched a $37 million urban reforestation plan — called ReLeaf Cedar Rapids — that seeks to plant more than 40,000 trees along streets and in parks and to guide residents to help their own yards recover.

“We’re allocating a $6 million award to the ReLeaf program so that Cedar Rapids can continue its efforts to restore and rebuild its forest and tree population,” Vilsack said in a call with reporters.

The USDA’s Forest Service grant program is meant to increase the overall tree canopy of cities and to give residents expanded access to parks. It has the potential to reduce temperatures in urban areas — lowering energy costs for residents — and to promote better air quality by reducing carbon dioxide and pollutants in the air that are absorbed by trees.

“No community should be left behind,” Vilsack said. “For far too long, there have been communities that were marginalized or underserved in urban centers, and specifically with reference to forestry opportunities.”

The grant program elicited more than 800 applications that asked for more than $6 billion of funding. The USDA awarded a little more than $1 billion to 385 applicants.

A total of $54 million went to a dozen national organizations, some of which have very specific targets, such as planting trees in schoolyards and in Latino communities.

Two programs in Nebraska and one in western Iowa will benefit:

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln will receive $10 million to strengthen its urban forest infrastructure.

South Sioux City will receive $1 million to improve its community forests.

Council Bluffs will receive $600,000 for planting trees.

This article first appeared in the Iowa Capital Dispatch, a sister site of the Nebraska Examiner in the States Newsroom network.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register. His investigative work exposing police misconduct has notched several state and national awards. He is a longtime trustee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which fights for open records and open government. He is a lifelong Iowan and has lived mostly in rural western parts of the state.