Finding ‘Tree Fairness’: New Analysis Shows Maryland Neighborhoods Need More Trees

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Some neighborhoods in Baltimore and Montgomery County, especially those suffering from poverty, received much lower “tree equity” scores than the wealthier parts of Maryland. They will need thousands of new trees to achieve equilibrium.

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Baltimore needs more than 570,000 new trees to achieve “tree equity,” or the number of trees required for every neighborhood to enjoy the environmental and health benefits of greenery, according to a national conservation organization. non-profit.

American Forests recently released Tree Equity Scores for 150,000 neighborhoods across the country to highlight the inequitable distribution of tree canopy in urban areas.

A score of 100 represents the fairness of the tree.

Baltimore scored 84, Annapolis scored 86, and Washington, DC scored 91. Montgomery County scored 96, the highest score for tree fairness among urban and suburban areas from Maryland. The lowest score for an urban-suburban area in Maryland is 73 for Stevensville in Queen Anne County.

But some neighborhoods scored much lower than their larger municipalities.

A stretch of downtown Silver Spring in Montgomery County received a score of 60.

Broadway East is one of Baltimore’s hottest and poorest neighborhoods – home to 90% people of color and over 50% poor – with a tree equity score of around 60 and 10% of tree cover; some blocks in the neighborhood had a score as low as 50. At the same time, Roland Park and neighboring neighborhoods – made up of about 15% people of color and 5% people living in poverty – have fairness scores. trees of 100, highlighting the disparities between the city.

Tree equity scores are calculated by comparing an area’s canopy with demographics such as surface temperature, population density, income, employment and race, said Chris David, vice-president. Chairman of Geographic Information System and Data Science for American Forests.

“Too often a map of tree canopy cover is also a map of race and income,” David said. “Poor communities have fewer trees and communities of color have fewer trees. The purpose of this map was to highlight this disparity and provide cities with the ability to correct this problem by targeting neighborhoods with the lowest score. “

The wealthiest neighborhoods in Baltimore have 80% more canopy than the city’s poorer neighborhoods, David said. And the coolest neighborhoods in Baltimore have almost three times the canopy of the warmer neighborhoods, he said.

Trees can play an important role in people’s health, as tree covers provide shade and help cool neighborhoods. Lower temperatures also mean lower energy use and lower utility bills.

A sufficient number of trees can prevent an urban area from becoming a ‘heat island’ – or the phenomenon that urban areas tend to have higher temperatures because they have more buildings, concrete sidewalks and streets. paved, which absorb more heat from the sun than forests and farmland.

Urban heat islands are 5 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer during the day, according to American Forests.

Nationally, wealthy neighborhoods have on average 65% more tree cover than very poor neighborhoods, David said. And neighborhoods with extremely low minority populations have almost twice the tree canopy as those with high minority populations, he added.

Inequalities in canopy coverage stem from historic policies of redlining and continued divestment in these communities, David said. But with the recent bills that were passed by the General Assembly this year, more green space in Maryland is underway.

One is the Tree Solutions Now Act of 2021, which set a state goal of planting 5 million trees over the next decade. He also aims to plant at least 500,000 of these trees in “underserved areas” and creates a position of “5 Million Trees Program Coordinator” within the Maryland Department of the Environment to oversee the initiative. . The bill entered into force on June 1.

This tree-planting goal was originally part of the Climate Solutions Now Act of 2021. But when this bill was blocked in the House, its sponsor, Senator Paul Pinsky (D-Prince George’s) added the tree planting program to another bill and renamed it “Tree Solutions Now Act of 2021” a nod to his frustration with the pace of the omnibus climate bill.

“For people who live in urban areas, there is a lot more pollution from more automobiles and power plants nearby,” Pinksy said. “We owe it to them to try to fix it as effectively as possible… we have to be very aware of that. The trees absorb carbon dioxide and will bring back green spaces to urban areas that have been somewhat paved. “

Empty West Baltimore homes could be torn down to create more green space and canopy, Pinksy said. The Tree Solutions Now Act is intended to support community groups that already have tree planting programs that can hire local people to take care of the additional trees, Pinsky said. “It may also be a job creator.

The American Forests report estimates that Maryland would need to plant approximately 5.5 million trees to bring tree equity to all neighborhoods.

Another bill enacted this year requires the Maryland Department of Transportation to replace trees felled during state highway construction by planting a comparable number in the same community. The first tree replacements are to be done in communities suffering from environmental justice problems or the “heat island” effect.

Communities such as Langley Park and Long Branch in Montgomery County rely heavily on public transportation and suffer from the “heat island” effect as well as localized air pollution, Del said. Lorig Charkoudian (D-Montgomery), who sponsored the tree replacement bill. In those communities, trees were felled to make way for the construction of the Purple Line light rail project, but the trees were not replaced, she said.

“The whole area is going to benefit from the purple line, but the people who live along it are going to bear a greater part of the burden, and it is not acceptable for them not to have trees,” he said. said Charkoudian.

It is also important, she said, to work directly with community leaders in neighborhoods where trees are planted.

“Sometimes when you’re trying to solve a problem it’s easy to go, ‘Okay let’s just get all the trees out there’ – but if you don’t do it in a way that honors the communities where you put the trees, then you end up reinforcing other parts of the injustices that created the problem in the first place.

Danielle E. Gaines contributed to this report.

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