Last week, American Forests announced the 10 best U.S. cities for urban forests. California had one city on that list – Sacramento. In a state where over 94% of our population lives in an urban area, or roughly 35 million Californians, it’s deeply concerning that more of our cities didn’t make the list and that urban forests aren’t a top priority for our elected officials and policy makers. We live in a state that makes many top 10 lists, including 6 of the top 10 U.S. cities with the worst air pollution. Our urban forests, our cities’ green infrastructure, should be a top priority for cities throughout the state.
Most people aren’t against trees, they’re indifferent. But they shouldn’t be. Study after study links urban greenery to improved public health: 40 percent fewer people are overweight or obese, residents are 3 times as likely to be physically active, children have reduced symptoms of attention deficit disorder, hypertension and asthma, and stress levels are lower.
If the intangible benefits of trees in our environment aren’t enough evidence, what about the dollars and cents? A study done about trees in the Central Valley showed that one large tree will provide over $2,700 in environmental and other benefits over its lifetime. That’s a 333% return on investment. For 100 large public trees, communities can save over $190,000 in 40 years. Last year, California ReLeaf funded over 50 projects with community partners that will result in over 20,000 trees planted, and the creation or retention of over 300 jobs and job training for scores of young people. The urban forestry industry as a whole added $3.6 billion to California’s economy last year.
So here it is, our challenge to you Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco, Fresno, Long Beach, Oakland, Bakersfield, and Anaheim: as one of 10 most populous cities in California, strive to join Sacramento on the 10 best list that will improve your cities economy, health, safety, air and water quality. Plant trees, properly care for your existing ones, and invest in your cities green infrastructure. Join us in funding local projects, make urban forests part of your cities policies, and value trees and greenspace as critical contributors to clean air, energy conservation, water quality and the health and well-being of your local citizens.
These are the solutions that lead to a better California and greener communities.
Joe Liszewski is the Executive Director of California ReLeaf