Story at a glance

  • Nonprofit American Forests developed a Tree Equity Score to determine the forestry needs of the U.S.
  • More tree coverage can help fight climate change, lower air pollution and create energy savings.
  • Some of the cities that stand to benefit the most from more tree planting include Los Angeles, Chicago and Detroit.

The U.S. got its first grade measuring the state of its trees across dozens of major cities, analyzing tree coverage trends in a bevy of neighborhoods.

Fifteen metropolitan areas were surveyed, and researchers found that another 522 million more trees will need to be planted overall for the optimal levels of carbon sequestration, job creation and health benefits.

Dubbed the Tree Equity Score, the metric stands in place for several other factors: population density, neighborhood income, average surface temperatures, existing tree canopy, racial demographic makeup, employment and other health statistics. 

The data comes primarily from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Surveys. Tree coverage was gathered from Earth Define and its U.S. Tree Map from 2020. Other states have specific nature data that was also used. 

Combined, these data form the Tree Equity Score.

“Our Tree Equity Score will help make us all accountable and create action at the local, state and national levels,” said Jad Daley, president and chief executive officer of American Forests. “It shows us exactly where the problems exist, where we need to concentrate investment to solve them, and where we need to bring people together — all different types of people and organizations.”


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Some of the largest cities surveyed that stand to benefit the most from increased tree coverage include Chicago; Detroit; Los Angeles; Jacksonville, Fla.; Memphis, Tenn.; Philadelphia, among others. 

A major focus of the score was observing tree coverage patterns across all regions with varying socioeconomic and racial demographics. 

Falling in line with previous evidence, researchers saw neighborhoods with a large population of people of color have 33 percent less tree coverage on average than comparable majority white neighborhoods.

Additionally, neighborhoods with residents dealing with extreme poverty also have about 41 percent less tree shade and coverage than communities with about a 10 percent or less poverty rate.

“We need to make sure the trees go where the people are,” Daley added. “And more than 70% of the people live in cities or suburbs so, it’s a place-based problem with a place-based solution. Tree Equity Score steers us in the right direction, and now it’s up to all of us to go beyond business as usual and take bold action.”


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Daley’s group advocates that tree coverage and planting have myriad benefits, including cooling areas with shade and carbon sequestration, which in turn mitigates hazardous effects of climate change and brings economic gains as more jobs in the forestry industry are created. 

“Trees help cool neighborhoods and reduce what’s called the 'urban heat island effect,' the creation of 'islands' of heat that result in a dangerous rise in temperature and disproportionately affect vulnerable populations, low-income communities and people of color,” the report said. 

If the U.S. reaches the American Forest’s goal of planting 522 million trees nationwide, the country would see an estimated 3.8 million jobs created and absorb 9.3 million tons of carbon annually, which amounts to taking 92 million cars off the roads.

It would also help absorb more than 56,000 tons of particulate pollution each year. Researchers argue this could help alleviate the public health impacts of pollution. 

The U.S. Forest Service further estimates that urban and community forests produce $18.3 billion in national value by removing air pollution and reducing energy use. 


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Published on Jun 29, 2021