The U.S. Forest Service, through the Inflation Reduction Act, just awarded a $12 million grant to a coalition of public and nonprofit partners to help implement the Philly Tree Plan: the first comprehensive plan to equitably grow and care for Philadelphia’s urban forest. Fairmount Park Conservancy was honored to join Philadelphia Parks & Recreation (PPR), the Office of Transportation, Infrastructure, and Sustainability, Public Health Management Corporation, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, PowerCorpsPHL, the School District of Philadelphia, and the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia to celebrate the grant on November 16 at James Rhoads School in West Philadelphia.
Of the $12 million grant, the Conservancy will receive more than $1.6 million, using its share of the funding to increase the natural lands tree canopy restoration in three key locations in Philadelphia – East and West Fairmount Park and Cobbs Creek. The Conservancy’s work will add trees to Parkside in West Philadelphia, Strawberry Mansion in North Philadelphia, and Southwest Philadelphia, all communities that can benefit from this important initiative.
“Thanks to this transformational grant, Fairmount Park Conservancy plans to dramatically expand our natural lands restoration and maintenance efforts, enhance the tree canopy in the communities that need it the most, and provide a critically timed investment in our key watershed parks,” said Maura McCarthy, Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer of Fairmount Park Conservancy. “This kind of sustainable approach ensures that our green spaces heal our ecology and our people, and build a resilient future for all.”
The Conservancy’s participation in this grant will build upon over a decade of work in partnership with the City to increase the tree canopy. In 2012, the Conservancy joined PPR to launch TreePhilly, an urban forestry program that aims to reach 30% tree canopy coverage in every Philadelphia neighborhood. With a focus on environmental justice and community-driven planting efforts, TreePhilly reverses the city’s declining tree canopy by providing free, accessible yard trees and nurturing relationships between neighbors, institutions, and the land. To date, TreePhilly has distributed over 21,500 trees through its community yard tree giveaway program.
Over the last five years, the Conservancy and PPR have expanded and enhanced TreePhilly through targeted natural lands restoration work, street and yard tree plantings, and plantings through our biannual Love Your Park events. During that time, the Conservancy has worked with PPR to plant more than 24,000 trees, host more than 60 giveaway events, and engage more than 8,000 volunteers in improving and reducing inequities in Philadelphia’s tree canopy.
Despite this tremendous work, studies still show that Philadelphia lost 6% of its urban forest from 2008 to 2018. In addition, while Philadelphia has 20% tree canopy citywide, trees are not equitably distributed, with some areas having 45% tree canopy or more and others having less than 5%.
The $12 million grant will allow public and nonprofit partners to scale up existing urban forestry operations and programs, and support community groups, businesses, and local projects to deliver immediate impact in high-priority, low-canopy areas of Philadelphia.
Centered around a 10-year implementation roadmap and 30-year tree canopy growth projections, the Philly Tree Plan is organized around the following goals:
- Coordinate support for trees
- Protect the existing and future urban forest
- Grow the urban forest equitably across the city
- Reduce the burden of trees on residents
- Invest in people and communities
- Communicate with residents and improve customer service
- Advocate for communities to benefit from the urban forest
- Celebrate and support the ways communities are engaging with trees
The Philly Tree Plan identifies seven priority geographic areas where City and nonprofit partners should increase investment in tree planting and maintenance efforts. These areas were identified using environmental justice criteria including tree canopy cover, heat exposure, air quality, income, and asthma rates. Activities funded by the $12 million USDA Forest Service grant will be focused in these seven priority areas.
“Healthy, well-cared-for trees are an important part of safe, thriving communities,” said Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Commissioner Orlando Rendon. “This grant represents a huge investment in our city’s urban forest, and will allow us to set up systems and programs to support residents in planting and caring for trees in the lowest-canopy neighborhoods.”
The recommendations in the Philly Tree Plan include input from more than 9,000 residents, including a Community Voices Committee composed of 28 resident leaders, who guided the project from start to finish and held the plan accountable for the needs of their community. The plan lays out opportunities for planting more trees in priority neighborhoods and addresses perceived barriers to tree planting, like the need for effective maintenance and removal of hazardous trees.
The City and its partners will continue to pursue additional funding to ensure the Philly Tree Plan is fully implemented and to work to build a resilient and equitably distributed urban forest in Philadelphia that helps residents thrive in every neighborhood.