Leon LaSalle and the Chippewa Cree Tribe: Making USDA Programs Work For Tribal Producers

  • Leon LaSalle and the Chippewa Cree Tribe are leading a groundbreaking grant project to enhance conservation grazing practices and overcome barriers faced by tribal producers in accessing USDA programs.
  • The project provides a wide range of environmental benefits, including improved water quality and soil health, along with potential carbon sequestration. Economically, it enhances stability and reduces financial burdens during droughts for the Tribe.
  • Motivated by the struggles of tribal producers with USDA programs, Leon seeks to catalyze change through innovation, exemplifying tribal sovereignty in negotiating alternative funding arrangements under the 2018 Farm Bill.
  • Moving forward, several policy changes are needed for equitable access to Farm Bill Programs, including adjustments to livestock assistance programs and affordable crop insurance options for tribal producers.
  • The upcoming Farm Bill is an important opportunity for addressing these challenges, and the article advocates for the expansion of networks and involvement of private organizations to enhance access for tribal producers to Farm Bill programs.

From the sweeping landscapes of the Chippewa Cree Tribe, a third-generation rancher named Leon LaSalle is tenaciously advocating to reshape the narrative for tribal producers. In an exclusive conversation with the Native American Agriculture Fund, a private funding organization dedicated to increasing access to capital for Native American producers, Leon delves into the triumphs and trials of their groundbreaking grant project aimed at enhancing conservation grazing practices and overcoming the barriers faced by tribal producers in accessing U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs.

Confronting The Drought Dilemma

As our climate changes and weather has become increasingly unpredictable, dealing with the impact of drought has become an increasingly pressing challenge for the Chippewa Cree and other tribes. Leon drove this point home in the interview, noting, “Droughts are a big deal, it’s an ongoing deal, and we know we have to plan for it, so that’s part of everything we are doing.” To mitigate the impacts of drought on tribal producers, Leon emphasized that proper infrastructure and management practices like the availability of forage and livestock water are important. However, tribal producers have historically faced difficulties accessing funding through USDA programs to enhance their conservation and climate mitigation practices.

Leon’s project focuses on climate-smart conservation practices and advocacy, aiming to enhance conservation grazing on tribal lands and improve tribal producers’ access to USDA programs. Additionally, the project assesses the potential for carbon sequestration through grazing systems. In the interview, Leon underscored the significance of data sharing across reservations in Montana and neighboring regions. “Hopefully, this project will come up with data and positive results that can be shared within my reservation, with neighboring reservations, and across the whole country.”

The project also provides a wide range of environmental benefits, including improved water quality and quantity, enhanced soil health, and the potential for carbon sequestration. Economically, improved stability and less reliance on emergency measures during droughts reduce the financial burdens faced by the Tribe.

Sovereignty Into Action: Catalyzing Change Through Innovation

Leon’s motivation for supporting the project was to address the longstanding struggles of tribal producers with USDA programs. “As an ex-employee of NRCS, I had witnessed first-hand tribal producers and tribal entities struggle with USDA programs and their implementation. One of my big drivers was to see if we could do something more than what the USDA was doing for tribal producers.” The Chippewa Cree Tribe fully supports this initiative, aiming to improve opportunities not only locally but also for tribes across the country.

During the interview, Leon also discussed the challenges tribal producers face due to USDA program constraints, highlighting the project’s success in negotiating alternative funding arrangements (AFAs) under the 2018 Farm Bill. This achievement allows tribal producers to receive a full 90% cost share, addressing previous disparities where perceived cost shares were often 50% or less. “We have helped the Chippewa Cree Tribe and the Fort Belknap Indian Community successfully negotiate the two first alternative funding arrangements in the entire United States under the 2018 Farm Bill. Those are important because now in those arrangements, tribal producers are able to get a full 90% cost share. Under the old system, producers were led to believe they were getting 90% cost share, but because those were based on region-wide costs NRCS provided, most of the time those cost shares were 50% or less. This was leading to many producers canceling contracts and not moving forward. I think we’ve really opened up an avenue and set up a template that other tribes can follow and negotiate their own arrangements.” 

The negotiated funding arrangements with the federal government exemplify tribal sovereignty in action. The AFAs can enable tribes to address the distinctive priorities of their communities. Considering the diverse cultures and environmental factors inherent to each sovereign tribal nation, it is imperative that tribes are at the forefront of decision-making in these processes, ensuring the implementation of programs align with the cultural values and needs of their tribal producers and community members.

Increasing Equitable Access to Farm Bill Programs

Leon also pointed out the need for several policy changes, including adjustments to livestock assistance programs, improved funding for tribal historic preservation offices, and affordable crop insurance options for tribal producers. He stressed that the upcoming Farm Bill provides an important opportunity for addressing these challenges. To scale up efforts in conservation and access to Farm Bill programs, Leon emphasized the importance of expanding the network of technical experts who can assist tribal producers. He also urged the involvement of private organizations to complement federal agency efforts. “To build upon success, we need to expand the network of technical people who can carry this work forward. It’s through private work that this will happen, and the federal agencies will not be our savior, we need to empower more organizations like the Intertribal Agriculture Council into the field that can assist tribal producers. It is time to break the stereotypical mold and come up with a different model. We need more people to help producers get it done on the ground.”

Leon’s favorite memory from the grant project was successfully negotiating historical agreements with USDA, particularly AFAs, and changes to grazing management standards. “When we started that negotiation, it started from “this is our standard and this is what you have to do,” to “we can’t do that and we need a different avenue and maybe we need to involve other people in the negotiation,” to finalizing a process that opens the door for a lot more tribal participation through EQIP, CSP, and CRP. We were miles apart initially, but what is important is that it was achieved in support of tribal producers. These changes we are making now are forever, they are historic changes that will go on for future generations of tribal producers.”

Leon LaSalle’s dedication to advancing conservation practices and advocating for tribal producers is truly inspiring. His insights and experiences shed light on the challenges and opportunities in achieving a more equitable and sustainable agricultural landscape for Native communities, illuminating a path forward.

Additional Resources

Treesilience: Urban Forestry for Communities and Climate

Woman planting a tree in a suburban area with a caption that says "Urban-led Urban Forestry: The Treesilience initiative aims to reduce tree cover disparities by planting, maintaining, and replacing trees in urban neighborhoods, benefiting people, wildlife, and the climate.
  • Urban trees offer numerous benefits, including filtering air and water, conserving energy, providing animal habitat, and reducing energy costs. They can also mitigate carbon dioxide emissions significantly.
  • Disparities in tree cover exist between low- and high-income neighborhoods, as well as between communities of color and white communities. This inequity leads to various negative impacts on health and well-being.
  • The Treesilience initiative, a collaboration involving The Nature Conservancy, USDA Forest Service, and community-based organizations, aims to reduce tree cover disparities by planting, maintaining, and replacing trees in urban neighborhoods. It prioritizes communities with the greatest need.
  • In Chicago, the Imani Green Health Advocates program trains advocates in urban forestry and community health, with a focus on planting trees in high-need areas. The program provides career opportunities and improves community well-being.
  • The St. Louis Treesilience program removes hazardous trees and replants two trees for every one removed, focusing on areas with threatened or lost canopy. It aims to improve respiratory health in communities with high air pollution rates and receives federal funding support for urban reforestation efforts.
  • Federal funding is essential for supporting urban tree canopy projects like Treesilience, utilizing grants from agencies like the USDA Forest Service to address tree cover disparities and promote reforestation, with efforts underway to amend legislation to ensure urban initiatives are integrated into broader reforestation goals.

The benefits of urban trees are well documented. According to the USDA Forest Service, “urban forests help to filter air and water, control storm water, conserve energy, and provide animal habitat and shade.” They also provide tangible financial benefits to communities, with one study finding that urban trees can reduce energy use in residential areas by an average of 7.2%, saving billions of dollars. 

Urban trees also provide benefits for climate. Indeed, research from American Forests and The Nature Conservancy reveals that planting 522 million to 1.2 billion trees in urban areas could mitigate between 8.7 million and 25.8 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year respectively – equivalent to removing between 1.94 million and 5.74 million cars from the road. To realize these benefits, it isn’t enough to just plant trees – it is also necessary to maintain the trees after they are planted to ensure that they survive and thrive. Failure to plan for trees’ long-term survival can lead to the rapid death of newly planted trees. It’s also incredibly important to maintain large, long-lived mature trees currently providing optimal benefits while new trees grow large enough to do the same. 

Unfortunately, the benefits of urban trees are not spread equitably across American communities. A national tree survey conducted by The Nature Conservancy, mapping urban tree canopy in 5,723 U.S. cities and towns reveals widespread inequity in tree cover between low- and high-income neighborhoods in U.S. cities, finding that, on average, there is 15.2% higher-tree cover in higher-income neighborhoods compared to lower-income areas. Furthermore, research by American Forests shows that the majority of communities of color have, on average, 33% less tree cover than the majority of white communities. This leads to higher temperatures, increased energy costs, fewer opportunities for outdoor recreation, and less resilience to storms and flooding in these communities. All these factors contribute to diminished health and well-being, particularly for communities of color, compared to white and/or affluent communities. 

TREE EQUITY Disparities in tree cover exist between low- and high-income neighborhoods, as well as between communities of color and white communities. This inequity leads to various negative impacts on health and well-being. The orange areas in the images above show areas with poor tree equity scores (including low tree canopy). Source: American Forests’ Tree Equity Score tool for south Chicago (left) and St. Louis (right).

Treesilience: Community-Led Efforts To Increase & Maintain Urban Tree Cover

Treesilience, a national initiative administered through a partnership among The Nature Conservancy, the USDA Forest Service, Davey Tree Expert Company, and myriad community-based organizations, agencies, and industry partners, began in Chicago in 2020, and then spread to Orlando and St. Louis. The initiative is aimed at reducing disparities in tree cover and eliminating barriers to healthy tree canopy by removing and replacing dead or dying trees, maintaining and pruning existing trees, and planting new trees in urban neighborhoods where tree canopy has been threatened or lost. Importantly, the Treesilience program does not just focus on planting trees – it also helps maintain existing mature trees to ensure they remain healthy and strong. Efforts are targeted toward communities with the most need using the best available science. The program is administered jointly with community organizations – like Imani Village, Missouri ReLeaf, Beyond Housing, and Pine Hills Community Council – and when possible, young emerging professionals from within the community are engaged in the work, providing new pathways for careers in arboriculture. 

Treesilience is currently active in Chicago, St. Louis, and Orlando, with plans to expand into additional U.S. cities and states. Read on to learn more about two of these programs.

Chicago: Urban Forestry with Imani Green Health Advocates & Treesilience

Rachel Patterson, a lifelong resident of the South Side of Chicago, initially believed that her Environmental Studies degree would not offer many career opportunities in her local area. However, her perspective changed when she discovered the Imani Green Health Advocates internship, the program through which Treesilience is implemented in Chicago.

This initiative, a collaboration between Imani Village, Trinity United Church of Christ, Advocate Health Care, Chicago Region Trees Initiative, The Morton Arboretum, The Nature Conservancy, and the USDA Forest Service, focuses on professional development and career training in three areas: environmental health, community health, and spiritual health. The advocates engage in outreach efforts within various neighborhoods on Chicago’s south and west sides, including Pullman, West Pullman, Cottage Grove Heights, Washington Heights, Roseland, and Chatham, addressing aspects of physical and mental health, landscape health, and spiritual well-being.

The Imani Green Health Advocates program is part of a larger, 23-acre, sustainable mixed-use development known as Imani Village, spearheaded by leaders and parishioners from Trinity United Church of Christ. Imani Village includes an urban farm, organic garden, NCAA sports complex, retail center, health clinic, youth development center, and community housing.

Sustainability and meaningful employment are central to Imani Village’s approach to community health, and this philosophy is reflected in the Imani Green Health Advocates program. The Advocates receive comprehensive training in urban forestry, tree health, and urban landscapes, with guidance from The Nature Conservancy and partners. 

COMMUNITY ACTION The Imani Green Health Advocates program trains advocates in urban forestry and community health, with a focus on planting trees in high-need areas. The program provides career opportunities and improves community well-being. Photos by Joel Zavala/TNC.

Now in its fifth year, more than 20 advocates have been a part of the program, helping survey tree health and canopy in Chicago’s neighborhoods, identifying ideal locations for tree planting, and setting a goal of responsibly planting 50 trees per year in high-need communities. The tree-health findings are incorporated into Advocate Hospital’s community health needs assessment, and today Chicago residents can also request a tree or tree removal through the City’s CHI311 mobile app. 

According to Patricia Eggleston, the Executive Director of Imani Village, the goal is to create a holistic and healthy lifestyle for the community, providing opportunities for meaningful careers and well-paid employment. As the program progresses, more permanent job placements are envisioned for the Advocates. For Rachel, the program expanded her resume through work with organizations like Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium and Audubon Great Lakes. She has also returned to the program as a guest presenter, sharing her story and conducting workshops with new cohorts of Advocates.

The collaborative efforts of Imani Village and its partners not only aim to create career opportunities for local residents but also to empower the community and improve overall health and well-being. With the continued growth of the Imani Green Health Advocates program and the amenities provided by Imani Village, the South Side of Chicago looks forward to becoming a vibrant and sustainable community for its residents.

Treesilience St. Louis: Growing a Resilient Tree Canopy

A healthy urban tree canopy provides a multitude of ecological, economic and social benefits that can enhance the overall quality of life. But threats to these trees – like life-threatening tree insects or pathogens – can weaken and even kill trees over time. These threats are worsening over time, largely due to climate change. In brief, these life-saving organisms go from benefit to burden, sometimes in a matter of a few years as can be the case for ash trees impacted by emerald ash borer. Frustratingly, costs associated with tree removal or mature tree pruning can be prohibitive for many. And, the longer dead or dying trees remain on one’s property, the greater the risk they pose, which can leave residents feeling less favorable toward trees, understandably. Hazardous tree removals or pruning can bring peace of mind to homeowners and communities, and perhaps even begin to restore relationships with trees over time.

That was the case for Dorothy Collins, who lives in the Pine Lawn neighborhood in north St. Louis County. In December 2021, the St. Louis Treesilience program officially kicked off in her front yard with the removal of a large sweetgum tree that had a huge stress fracture and was posing a threat to her house and more importantly, her safety.

For every tree removed in St. Louis, the team replants two trees in its place through a partnership with Forest ReLeaf of Missouri’s tree nursery. 

The initiative focuses on areas where canopy is either threatened or already lost, and prioritizes communities where neighbors stand to gain the most from increased canopy, which is also the case for Collins. Communities in and around north St. Louis County and the City of St. Louis have high rates of air pollution and asthma-related hospitalizations.

“Community trees provide us significant benefits, and we believe that everyone deserves access not only to trees and greenspaces but to healthy trees and greenspaces,” Rachel Holmes, The Nature Conservancy’s urban forestry strategist, says. “Studies have shown that respiratory health can be improved by the expansion of healthy tree cover in areas with higher air pollution.”

The effects of Treesilience are lasting, but they start paying off immediately. At the program kick off, Collins shared her gratitude with the program partners for the removal and also her two new trees

“I’m thankful for everyone here and I’m relieved to get rid of that tree…I really am,” Collins said, adding that she is excited to watch her new trees grow.

Federal Support for Scaling Urban Forestry Program

Treesilience offers an important example of how combined federal funding sources that support both rural and urban forests can help advance the national climate agenda, overall, particularly through comprehensive reforestation. According to research shared by both American Forests and The Nature Conservancy through the Reforestation Hub, approximately 19% of the reforestation potential in the United States is in urban landscapes. Additionally, major tree insects and diseases are often discovered in urban trees and forests first. 

Federal funding sources that support Treesilience – which is, at its core, a reforestation program – include a grant from the USDA Forest Service’s Landscape Scale Restoration (LSR) competitive grants program, which leverages both public and private resources to support collaborative, science-based restoration of forested landscapes, particularly in rural communities. These funds support Treesilience in North St. Louis County, where the population size of the 24 individual municipalities that make up the region qualify as ‘rural.’ Accordingly, Treesilience is an example of how LSR funding can not only support this urban forestry program, but also help meet broader U.S. reforestation goals. 

Efforts are currently underway to revise the 2023 Farm Bill, the Congressional authority for the LSR grant program, to ensure that LSR applications for projects on urban landscapes may be fully considered alongside projects in rural communities, reflecting the need for a more comprehensive reforestation approach.

Programs like Imani Green Health Advocates (and/or organizations like Missouri ReLeaf) are also funded through generous support from the Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry (UCF) Program, which recently received a $1.5 billion boost in funding under the Inflation Reduction Act. The UCF Program provides technical, financial, and educational assistance to help urban communities increase and maintain healthy tree cover, with an emphasis on providing assistance to nature-deprived communities. This program is also authorized through the Farm Bill, making that particular legislation indispensable to nationwide efforts to expand tree cover and ensure the benefits of trees are enjoyed in all communities, while also tapping into the full potential of urban trees to address climate change. 

Additional Resources

Sequestering Carbon Through Conversation and Community Burning: Converting Forest Fuels to Biochar 

We all enjoy telling stories around a campfire, but what if that campfire was also a tool to improve timber practices and reduce carbon emissions? The Lands Council partnered with the Kalispel Tribe of Indians and others on a pilot project to reduce forest fuels and transform them to beneficial biochar. These pilot burns were a chance for the forest community to come together and look at the many potentials for biochar on the landscape along with some of the limitations to large scale implementation.

Biochar is created in a process called pyrolysis, a high heat low oxygen environment. Many different materials, or feedstocks, from wood to straw can be used and the end product is light weight, extremely porous, and has high carbon content. Compared to the original feedstock, the carbon in biochar will last for hundreds to thousands of years in the soil. This sequestering of carbon back into the soil can offset some of the traditional practices in timber management including the use of machinery and emissions released from burning timber waste.

Forest thinning is a key component of forest management, particularly for wildland fire fuels reduction. Due to over a hundred years of fire suppression and aggressive logging practices, our western forests are choked with many small, non-commercially viable trees that increase the risk of catastrophic fire. Thinning these trees helps reduce the risk of devastating fires, ensuring that the carbon stored in the remaining trees remains there, rather than being released as smoke into the atmosphere. The focus of many of these thinning projects is in the WUI or Wildland Urban Interface. These are areas near houses and population centers where an uncontrolled fire can have costly and sometimes deadly consequences. 

The common practice for fuels reduction thinning is to have hand crew cut small diameter trees to reduce the ladder fuels that can allow a fire to move from the forest floor to the tree canopy. These small trees and branches, also known as slash, are then stacked in piles where they are allowed to dry before they are burned in the cooler/wetter months of late fall. There are a few issues with this method of removing fuels from the forest. Burning many slash piles at once produces a lot of smoke that can impact local air quality. The burning of these piles also scorches the surrounding soils, essentially sterilizing them. The end product of burning these piles is ash which can change the chemical properties of the soil and has limited beneficial effects.

In contrast, the conversion of slash to biochar has many benefits to the forest landscape and the climate. Amending agricultural soils with biochar created from available agricultural and forest waste could sequester up to 95 million metric tons of cardon dioxide if adopted nationwide. One of the crucial characteristics of biochar is the porosity, or the numerous minute holes which allows biochar to have incredible water holding capacity. In forests, biochar can help decommission logging decks and roads, reducing soil compaction and erosion – greatly improving stream health. It can also be added to the forest floor to increase the survival and growth of saplings. Those porous holes in biochar also create habitat for beneficial soil fugus and insects. The benefits of biochar are increasingly sought after in agricultural practices from the dry land grain production of eastern Washington to the vineyards and orchards of central Washington. Producers see the benefit to their crops with increased yields and improved water holding capacity, which reduces their water needs.

Ray Entz, Director of Wildlife and Terrestrial Resources for the Kalispel Tribe, saw the value in trying out biochar burning with some recent thinning projects. “The Kalispel Tribe sees climate impacts and its effects on forestry and forest management as absolutely critical,” said Entz. “We have been witnessing climate impacts to our forests over the past 10 years or so and we are interested in making sure we are doing the absolute best we can with our management. One of the controversial areas around forestry is post-harvest biomass [referred to as slash] treatment. It has been a longstanding practice to either lop and scatter or pile and burn excess biomass post-harvest. Knowing there may be better ways to treat biomass, we offered up piles on one of our recent harvest treatments as a pilot to demonstrate the use of biochar kilns and panels to reduce biomass to a more useful product while limiting smoke and soil impacts. We worked with The Lands Council, Resource Synergy, and the WSU extension office to create the space to see and learn about biochar production. Now, we have a way to go to bring biochar to the forefront as a viable and economical practice, but this is a great start, and we are supportive of its use in the future over a greater landscape.”

Over several crisp fall mornings, The Lands Council staff used two different techniques to convert slash piles into biochar on lands belonging to the Kalispel Tribe of Indians in Northeast Washington. The Wilson, or Oregon Kilns, are portable kilns that can be moved around the forest and operated by a team of 3-4 four. These are crossed stacked with feedstock to pack in as much wood as possible, and then each kiln is top lit. All of these steps help to reduce the amount of oxygen entering the pyrolysis process. The Polygon, or Ring of Fire kilns, are interlocking panels that can be constructed around existing slash piles and can be made to fit just about any size.

Gathered around the biochar kilns were many members of the community. Connections were made between the local public utility, which manages a biomass plant in the region, and a burgeoning biochar company that seeks to monetize the production of biochar and get it out of the forest and onto agricultural lands. We had seasoned foresters helping kids buck wood and feed it into the kilns. We had discussion with the local conservation district about creating training and a lending library for the biochar equipment so private landowners could have the valuable product of biochar while making their forest less prone to wildfires.

We also talked about some of the limitations of biochar production. These were small scale biochar productions relative to standard thinning practices that large land managers would conduct. There was also additional time and labor to cut feedstock to size and feed the kilns. We had many discussions on how to incorporate machinery to scale up and make the process more efficient. We also discussed the different market avenues for biochar, from carbon credits to landowners to selling to local hay producers. During these discussions, we established a goal of creating a circular economy through the reduction of forest fuels, using biochar as the currency. This will ultimately lead to safer forests, increased carbon sequestration, and numerous environmental benefits for the forest ecosystem.

There is still more research to be done to fully understand the climate change mitigation benefits of biochar, best practices for producing biochar and applying it to the land, and mechanisms for incentivizing the production and use of biochar. Numerous resources are available to fund this kind of research, including federal, state, and private sector support. For example, The Lands Council and Kalispel Tribe’s biochar program was supported by a grant from the Washington Department of Commerce. Federal programs like the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) Program can also help fund research and pilot projects. For example, a recent CIG project in Oregon supported research into different methods for producing biochar. As a result of this research, some participants in the NRCS’s Conservation Stewardship Program are allowed to convert agricultural waste into biochar.

The City of Burlington Goes To The Head of the Class in Implementing Natural Climate Solutions

In Burlington, Vermont, packs of kids from Champlain Elementary School fan out to local parks gathering acorns, ash samaras, and birch seed. They’re taking the problem of climate action into their own hands.

Everyone knows that trees are good for cities and good for our climate, but most cities need good locations to plant trees and sources of nursery trees for urban reforestation projects are in short supply. The solution? Simple, grow the trees yourself right on the elementary school grounds! In addition to oak, ash and birch, the children gather red osier, silk, and gray dogwood berries. This spring they also started growing trees in a “stick garden,” taking cuttings of willow, dogwood, and high bush cranberry and directly propagating them in the ground. Altogether, the students are cultivating 15 species, hundreds of individual trees and bushes—some will grow up on the school grounds and many others will be available for planting at other schools and parks.

This work is happening because of the unanimous passage by Burlington’s city council of a Nature-Based Climate Solutions (NBCS) plan. A huge and growing body of scientific evidence makes it clear that nature protection is not just good for stabilizing the climate —it’s the most cost-effective, important, and inescapable requirement for successfully slowing the heating of our cities and planet. Indeed, one study revealed that we can remove an additional 18% of the nation’s current greenhouse gas emissions, just by restoring and responsibly managing our forests, farms, ranches, grasslands, and wetlands. 

The plan has opened the way for numerous parts of the city government and local non-profit organizations to work together, supporting practical, inclusive actions such as growing much-needed trees while allowing children, from across a racial and socioeconomic spectrum, to have meaningful nature connection and agency around climate action. Of course these hard-working kids have some help—a partnership between Burlington’s school district, the city’s parks department, the Intervale Center (a local non-profit), Burlington Wildways partners, and the Grow Wild initiative is helping to make their tree nursery possible.

The partnership has allowed the tree project to thrive and no one partner could do the work alone. The city’s parks department waters trees over the summer, and provides supplies—while working with the school district’s grounds and maintenance staff to make sure that plans are workable. And, when many of the tree seeds failed in the first season, staff from the Intervale Center, which runs a conservation nursery, stepped in to troubleshoot and teach students and their teachers how to properly collect and start seeds of a variety of local and native species. 

The campus of the school has transformed from a large, mowed grass lot to areas that are in active production of carbon-sequestering native trees. Students also started a wildlife corridor using their campus to connect nearby woods that grow on one edge of the school to a small patch of forest on the other side of the school grounds.

Plus, trees growing in the campus nursery will be transplanted this fall for stream-bank restoration work on an impaired polluted stream that runs along the edge of the school campus before it empties into nearby Lake Champlain. Importantly, these trees are adapted to their place; they have local genetics and were not grown in pots with fertilizer before being trucked halfway across the country. The only transportation needed: strong arms and legs.

This tree work happening at Champlain Elementary School is just one of many areas where Burlington’s Nature-based Climate Solutions Plan aims to have an impact. The NBCS plan is organized into six theme areas: urban forests and tree canopies; water and wetlands; lawns, fields, and small open spaces; agriculture and community gardens; green infrastructure; and an overarching theme of equity, inclusion, and relationships. Burlington’s NBCS plan includes an implementation matrix that emphasizes the importance of community and departmental collaboration to achieve the city’s new climate mitigation, adaptation, and equity goals.

Now the city’s overall climate action efforts can be supported not only through its bold and ambitious Net Zero Energy Roadmap but also through its commitment to natural climate solutions.

To advance this nature-based work, Burlington is drawing on national and local networks, including the Nature-Based Climate Solutions Initiative (NCS), Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN), the Trust for Public Land, and the University of Colorado Boulder’s Masters of the Environment (MENV) Program. This network is continuously growing as new allies are identified, bringing together a powerful coalition of dedicated city champions, community leaders, graduate student researchers, climate professionals, and local activists committed to developing best practices for climate action.

With help from these partners and the NBCS plan, leaders in Burlington have started to quantify some of the benefits of the city’s natural assets and plan for the future. For example, according to American Forests’ Tree Equity Score tool, the urban tree canopy across the city stands at 42%. A recent analysis of the city’s tree canopy, using iTree Software, reveals that these trees sequester enough carbon to equal the removal of 450 cars from the road for a year, and these benefits will increase as the canopy increases. Additionally, the canopy is able to remove 26,500 pounds of air pollutants and avoid 43 million gallons of stormwater runoff each year, collectively reducing health incidences for residents and creating a healthier natural environment.

Trees excel at reducing the urban heat island effect, extreme heat mortality, and heat stress. An upcoming urban forest plan for Burlington will start to quantify the benefits of urban cooling provided by the canopy. The city aims to increase tree canopy, with a focus on tree equity. Areas of the city with the least coverage by tree canopy have the highest priority for tree plantings. And with support from the Arbor Day Foundation, a surge in tree plantings took place over the past three years across three city wards. The project focused on planting trees on streets with no greenbelt and in city parks with low shade cover, utilizing large planters to increase tree survival. Over the past three years, this project has planted 360 trees.

There are many more ways that nature-based climate action is at work in Burlington including: extensive regenerative agriculture and community gardening programs; backyard and park native habitat restoration; additional urban tree nurseries beyond the new one at Champlain Elementary; an advanced street tree program; riparian and wetland restoration and regeneration work; neighborhood-based food forests; invasive species removal and pollinator habitat enhancements.

Behind this work can be found a unique mix of nonprofits, an innovative school district, and two local government park entities working side-by-side—all working together to secure the city’s “triple bottom line” of social, economic and ecological thriving in Burlington, in the face of dramatically warming temperatures.

As Burlington embraces nature-based solutions, city leaders are creating a future prioritizing the safety and health of both people and the environment in the face of climate change. Burlington’s Nature-based Climate Solutions Plan serves as an example for municipalities across the country that are interested in tackling local impacts of climate change. With approximately 30,000 incorporated cities in the United States, city governments are a catalyst for continued climate action — with the potential to offset emissions from millions of cars; provide local cooling through evapotranspiration under the shade of trees and urban forests; and giving the next generation tools, motivation, and hope for a livable and bright future.

Zoe Richards is the Director of Burlington Wildways, Chair, Burlington Conservation Board

Melissa Hunter is a Graduate Student Consultant with the Masters of the Environment Program at the University of Colorado Boulder

Taj Schottland is Associate Director of National Climate Program at Trust for Public Land

MANO Project: Building A Diverse Workforce to Tackle Climate Change

“Eventually, climate change will affect all of us, because climate change doesn’t discriminate. We need to prepare ecosystems. A call to action that is not only driven by our personal gain, but more so for providing a sustainable future for generations to come.

Gabriel Van Praag, Civilian Climate Corp Fellow, MANO Project

The Latino community lives at the heart of the climate crisis– Latinos are twice as likely to be affected by wildfires, three times more likely to die from heat exhaustion on the job, more likely to live in hotter neighborhoods, more likely to live in areas exposed to flood risks, less likely to have their neighborhoods protected from sea level rise, and more likely to suffer health problems after a flood. Moreover, Latinos and other communities of color also face the nature gap– a disproportionate lack of access to parks, waterfronts, and other green and blue spaces. In addition to supporting public health, these spaces provide economic, educational, and climate resilience benefits to the surrounding communities. With 75% of Latinos saying that climate change is either a crisis or a very serious problem, more are willing to take action within their communities.

Impassioned for change, in 2010 Maite Arce created the 501(c)(3) non-profit Hispanic Access Foundation. With a clear vision, her motive was to unite her community and their environmental interests in hopes of creating a more equitable society. Meanwhile, the U.S. Census estimates that the Hispanic population will nearly double by 2050 to more than 100 million Latinos. With the knowledge of changing demographics, there is a growing need to engage the passion that young Hispanics have for environmental advocacy and conservation. As a result, Hispanic Access launched the My Access to Network Opportunities (MANO) Project. The MANO Project strives to connect and build young leaders of color to protect public lands and create equitable and just climate change strategies. 

The MANO Project’s model builds leadership capacity among communities of color and the nation as a whole. We do so by building trusting relationships with organizations and federal agencies to provide professional development and training opportunities for college students and graduates. Our current partnerships include: the Bureau of Reclamation, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service. A special feature of the MANO Project is that all internships are paid, allowing low-income individuals the opportunity to enjoy a leg up in their careers they otherwise could not afford. In the words of Fernando Lara, a first-generation college student who worked his way through school, “Before learning about the MANO Project, I saw similar internships. However, they were unpaid, and I couldn’t participate because I wouldn’t have had time to do the internship, work, and still go to school. Thankfully, MANO’s paid internship paved the way for me to get into a field I’m passionate about without the burden of wondering if I was going to be able to pay the rent.” 

In addition to advocating for positions with liveable wages, the MANO Project administers a comprehensive framework to support workforce functions where current federal workforces fall short. This includes promoting a pathway of access for minority students and recent graduates to participate in an equitable recruitment and selection process. Once program hours have been completed, many interns qualify for certificates that offer a Direct Hiring Authority (DHA) status. This status opens up access to full-time employment within the federal government, helping America reach climate goals with a stronger, more diverse workforce. To date, more than 450 alumni have participated in our various internship programs. Most recently, the MANO Project has partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife in 2021 to debut the Civilian Climate Corps Fellowship Program (CCC), the first of its kind in providing young professionals an opportunity to be on the leading edge of the climate change fight by aiding the National Wildlife Refuge System’s (NWRS) response to climate mitigation and adaptation. These strategies will yield high impacts, such as ensuring that carbon already sequestered in our National Wildlife Refuges remains locked in trees and other vegetation, while providing an opportunity to explore restoration activities that help draw additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Historically, the decision-making process in the field of conservation has left minorities and vulnerable communities out of the conversation. Despite growing diversity in the United States, the racial composition of environmental institutions has remained between 12% to 16%.  Currently, the demographic makeup of most U.S. environmental organizations does not reflect that of the country as a whole. The MANO Project aims to change that by increasing the representation of historically underrepresented groups within conservation careers by creating a pipeline for them to get hired by environmental agencies and organizations. We are effectively enabling opportunities for substantial professional development within diverse cultural resource projects for students of color who not only overwhelmingly support the preservation of our parks and public lands, but also are capable of engaging their communities. This allows for new ideas and perspectives to become key aspects of an equitable fight against climate change. 

“When we think about conservation and the environment, what first comes to mind are images of sweeping plains and mountains, untouched by people,” says Nina Marti, Program Manager for the MANO Project. “What’s missing from that narrative, and how we respond to climate and environmental crises, are the ways in which people of color have established relationships with nature; how generations of Indigenous peoples have cared for this land, how enslaved and exploited peoples have cultivated this land, and how we integrate green space into urban areas. These narratives offer insights on how we can shape our relationship with nature and the climate for the better, but we can’t learn from them or integrate them until the keepers of those stories and practices are afforded equitable opportunities in their fields.”

As climate change continues to affect the day to day lives of our communities, federal land agencies, with the help of the current administration, have committed to confront the crisis through climate readiness integration in their mission and programs. While each agency has its own speciality and focus, each has a crucial part to play in combating climate changes. 

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s 2021 launch of the 18-month fellowship program for the newly reintroduced Civilian Climate Corp (CCC) program is an exciting example of how government agencies can support climate adaptation efforts. As part of President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan, the CCC program hired young Americans to work on combating the climate crisis within the National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS). Such roles are crucial, as one study estimated, 17 gigatons of carbon are currently stored on America’s NWRS. By developing and refining a climate adaptation framework, which utilizes existing plans, data on climate change and other stressors, ecological transformation, and a structured decision-making process, their work informs how Refuges will address climate change. Implementing this framework is a win-win opportunity. It protects existing carbon stores, while also allowing refuge managers to implement strategies, like native vegetation plantings, that help draw additional carbon from the air.

“The NWRS is on the front-lines of climate change,” said Cynthia Martinez, Chief of the NWRS. The CCC enlists the next generation to utilize new ideas and perspectives, ensuring a sustainable future for all. The MANO Project is committed to ensuring these, and future roles remain open to communities of color. “Engaging young people in diverse communities to be at the front and center of addressing the climate crisis is one of the MANO Project’s core goals,” said Michelle Neuenschwander, Director of the MANO Project. “Our work is about the next generation of Latino leaders. This unique experience provides extensive training, mentoring and professional development to ensure students have the tools and knowledge needed to excel in their fellowship.”

“The CCC is unique in its programming, but could be used as an example for other agencies,” says Crystal Strong, Program Associate for the MANO Project. “As needs for climate adaptation continue to take center stage, so do needs for jobs that tackle the larger issues at hand. As programs and positions are created, The MANO Project will continue to advocate for future opportunities to be accessible to diverse students and graduates. These internships and fellowships are monumental to opening pathways for full time employment within these agencies.” In the words of Gabriel Van Praag, a current CCC fellow, “The MANO Project gave me the opportunity to be on the leading edge of the fight for climate change adaptation. I hope to keep working in this field for the rest of my life. I really hope that I can reduce climate change, but also make the process equitable and just.”

In addition to the CCC, the US Forest Service (USFS) and Hispanic Access Foundation have partnered to support the next generation of conservation and environmental stewards through the Resource Assistant Program (RAP). This partnership aims to build a strong community of inspired, skilled, motivated leaders through substantial work experience and building skills required for success in natural resource careers. RAP fellows are placed at USFS national forests and offices throughout the U.S. and support the mission to care for the land and serve the people. Interns are introduced to various tasks and projects such as: lands management, conservation education, resource interpretation, and rehabilitation activities through their assignments on public lands across the country. RAP projects bring fellows in direct contact with climate impact work through assignments in fire management, forest restoration, wildfire prevention and  air quality management. An inspiring example of one of our interns doing so is Valery Serrano. A first-generation Latina, Valery Serrano, is a current MANO Intern with RAP stationed at the San Juan National Forest in Colorado. Through this program, Valery is pursuing the career of her dreams by working with wildlife and assisting wilderness and fire crews in educating the public on fire safety in the National Forest.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the chief human resources agency for the federal government, has made workforce data for the federal civilian workforce available through a tool called Fedscope. The most  recent diversity data trends for June 2022 demonstrate ample room for growth for minority groups in Science and Engineering occupations within the federal government. In Science occupations (Natural Resource Management, Biological Sciences, Environment Protection, Soil Conservation), 26% of current employees identify as a minority, and in Engineering occupations (Environmental, Civil, Electrical, Nuclear) 28% of current employees identify as a minority. Since its creation in 2015, the MANO Project has grown from offering one program encompassing a handful of internships to about 200 interns across 17 different national programs. At this stage of growth, we would like to expand into private and NGO sectors to diversify our opportunities, broaden access to environmental careers, and influence the field beyond the government sector. The MANO Project will continue to support programs like CCC and RAP that specifically work to target climate mitigation and adaptation. We will continue to encourage climate mitigation organizations to allocate resources to diversifying their own workforces so as to create meaningful dialogue around and solutions to climate crises.

Learn more about Hispanic Access Foundation, the MANO Project, and its fellowship programs at hispanicaccess.org and manoproject.org. Don’t see an internship fit? Get notified when we add new opportunities throughout the year when you sign up for alerts. For inquiries regarding partnerships, please email info@hispanicaccess.org, or fill out our inquiry form.

Article contributors:

MANO Project Program, Hispanic Access Foundation

Conservation Program, Hispanic Access Foundation

Communication Program, Hispanic Access Foundation

Gabriel Van Pragg, Civilian Climate Corp Fellow, MANO Project

City of Trees Challenge: A Tree-Focused Climate Solution  

  • National Model for Climate Action: The City of Trees Challenge serves as a model for scaling community-driven climate action nationwide. With new federal funding allocated for urban and community forest programs, there’s potential for similar initiatives to be implemented across the country, addressing both urban and rural tree planting efforts to mitigate climate change and improve community health and resilience.
  • What is the City of Trees Challenge? Launched in 2020, this ongoing initiative aims to plant one urban tree for every household in Boise, Idaho, and a forest seedling for every resident by 2030, totaling approximately 100,000 trees in the city and 235,000 seedlings in nearby forests.
  • The Impact Goes Beyond Carbon Sequestration: Urban forests provide numerous benefits beyond carbon sequestration, including reduced energy bills, improved quality of life, resilience to storms, job creation, and air quality benefits. The City of Trees Challenge prioritizes equitable distribution of these benefits, using tools like the American Forests Tree Equity Score to identify and focus attention on neighborhoods in need of more trees.
  • Strong Collaborative Effort: The success of the City of Trees Challenge hinges on collaboration between various partners including the City of Boise, local non-profit organizations like Treasure Valley Canopy Network (TVCN), The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Idaho, and the USDA Forest Service Boise National Forest. Each partner brings unique expertise to ensure the right trees are planted in the right places for maximum climate impact.

From filtering the air we breathe to offering shade and serving as habitat for wildlife, trees provide countless benefits to people and nature alike. Scientists have also identified ways trees help address climate change as a part of natural climate solutions through reducing greenhouse gases and sequestering carbon.

“We’ve got to act now if we’re really going to impact climate change. And trees are such an important part of that,” says Elaine Clegg, Boise City Council President, founder of the City of Trees Challenge.

Launched on Arbor Day in 2020, the City of Trees Challenge is an ongoing story of community and collaboration to address climate change. The Challenge aims to plant an urban tree for every household in Boise, Idaho and a forest seedling for every resident by 2030— approximately 100,000 trees in the city and 235,000 seedlings in nearby forests. The Challenge is poised to deliver substantial climate change mitigation benefits. Using the carbon estimator designed by 1t.org US, the project has the potential to sequester 154,124 MTCO2e over a 50-year horizon

To make this vision reality, a coalition was formed to support the tree-planting effort. Along with the City of Boise, partners include local non-profit Treasure Valley Canopy Network (TVCN), The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Idaho, and USDA Forest Service Boise National Forest. Each partner has brought unique expertise and passion to make the Challenge a long-term success. To have lasting climate impact, the right trees must be planted in the right place and for the right reason. The collaborative focuses on the best way to plan for, plant, and care for these trees over the course of their lifespan.

“Our partners are committed to long-term and sustained success through our approach to empowering citizen climate action,” says Treasure Valley Canopy Network Executive Director, Lance Davisson. “By working together, we are building a Challenge that offers a better life for all Boiseans.”

Led by The Nature Conservancy in Idaho and USDA Boise National Forest, the effort to plant forest seedlings has been focused on restoration of lands damaged by the 2016 Pioneer Fire. “Along with reducing greenhouse gases and sequestering carbon, as the seedlings grow they will improve wildlife habitat and help the land heal from impacts of the fire,” says Bas Hargrove, Senior Policy Advisor for The Nature Conservancy, who has been on the Challenge planning team since the beginning. “Ensuring these forests recover and grow means they will continue to provide opportunities for current and future generations of Idahoans.” 

In the spring of 2024, the Challenge partners reached the goal of planting 235,000 forest seedlings. Species include ponderosa pine and Douglas fir trees which will support improved soil stability and forest health. Arbor Day Foundation has been a key partner and funder of the forest seedling effort, contributing over $250,000 over the course of the Challenge so far. 

In 2020 and 2021, to support the urban tree planting program the City and TVCN hosted community tree distribution events in partnership with Boise Farmers Market. The partnership successfully distributed hundreds of trees to residents and raised awareness about the Challenge. In 2022, the urban program evolved into the Boise Tree Captains, based on a model developed by  Root Nashville in Tennessee. To date, over 50 Boise residents were recruited and trained in basic tree care and to identify areas within their own neighborhoods that could use more trees. “My job as a tree captain is looking for neighborhoods that don’t have as many trees, knocking on doors and talking to people about their yard,” says Tree Captain Cameron Weller. “I work with the (City of Boise) and the residents to create a plan that will help their tree survive and look great.”

So far, the Captains have located homes for over 300 trees in neighborhoods across Boise that will benefit from increased tree canopy to reduce urban heat and improve health and wellbeing of these neighborhoods. 

Urban forests provide many benefits for communities besides carbon sequestration – reduced urban heat and lower peak season summer energy bills, improved quality of life, resilience to storms, jobs, and air quality benefits. In Boise, maintaining the urban tree canopy  supports thousands of jobs and adds over $600 million into the economy. Additionally, Boise’s trees provide an estimated $500,000 in stormwater benefit, $300,000 in reduced summer energy use and $3.3 million in air quality benefits each year, benefitting the health of the community and saving both residents and the city significant money.

The Challenge is working to ensure equitable distribution of these benefits. Across the country, with few exceptions, trees are more likely to be in wealthier neighborhoods. By using the American Forests Tree Equity Score tool, partners and Boise Tree Captains are able to identify neighborhoods within the city that need more trees and then focus attention on those areas. However, to address tree equity and empower climate action, relationship building with impacted communities is needed. The Boise Tree Captain program begins to address this, but it is an area of growth and learning.

The Challenge’s combination of urban and rural tree planting provides a model for scaling community-driven climate action nationwide. American Forests and 1t.org US are already working on a platform to help other communities take this approach. New federal funding to help cities plant more trees is on the way – the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act provides $1.5 billion for urban and community forest programs. In addition, funds made available through the REPLANT Act and Infrastructure law can support post-fire recovery and climate change mitigation in wildland settings, all components of the overall vision for how the City of Trees Challenge improves the health of urban forests and city residents while also improving the healthy of the region’s forests.

In 2023, TVCN was awarded $1.1M from the USDA Forest Service through the Inflation Reduction Act  to expand the City of Trees Challenge program to the entire Treasure Valley.

“I hope Boise can model for other cities how to work with nature in the face of climate change to create a great place to live with access to the natural world that we all thrive in,” says Elaine Clegg.

Interested in bringing the Challenge model to your city? Email director@tvcanopy.net.

Download project fact sheet
(includes pathways for scaling)

Explore our Decision-Makers Guide to Natural Climate Solutions to better understand the science behind these strategies and get tools to implement them.

The State of the Puget Sound Tree Canopy

Trees help clean the water flowing into streams, rivers and Puget Sound, help purify the air people breathe, lower the temperature of surrounding neighborhoods—and so much more. As Puget Sound cities and towns experience rapid growth, identifying opportunities to invest in high-impact tree planting and preservation projects is essential to ensuring people will continue to receive the multiple benefits of trees.

A coalition of local, regional and national partners came together to address this goal and develop a model for the Central Puget Sound region to target projects that maximize the benefits of the urban tree canopy. The three-year collaboration included The Nature Conservancy, Davey Expert Tree Company, American Forests and City Forest Credits and was funded by a grant from the USDA Forest Service Urban and Community Forestry Program, administered through the State of Washington Department of Natural Resources.

Trees grace the urban environment. Photo by Kevin Lee.

By approaching this from a regional lens, the Central Puget Sound partners were able to leverage resources to ensure that jurisdictions – regardless of their individual capacity – were able to access high-quality data and tools to understand their existing tree canopy and opportunities to invest in future tree canopy through a lens of ecosystem benefits, social equity and climate adaptation. In addition, a regional analysis provided an overall understanding of regional tree canopy distribution. After all, trees and forests do not care about city lines.

The Urban Tree Canopy Assessment Toolkit details the results of this effort and highlights a model that can be adapted and applied by other regions in Washington State and across the United States. 

The Conservancy, Davey Tree, American Forests and City Forest Credits conducted an urban tree canopy assessment and incorporated into multiple tools, including: a planting prioritization based on ecosystem benefits, i-Tree Landscape and Tree Equity Score. To supplement these tools, the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Sciences produced a climate-adaptive tree species guide for the Puget Sound. To encourage and support community action, the City Forest Credits demonstrated how carbon financing can support urban forestry goals.

The products of this partnership can be used by urban forestry practitioners to target investments in urban tree planting and maintenance based on a variety of priorities, including looking at available planting space, equitable distribution of trees, stormwater benefits, and more. These tools can be used to communicate with decision makers using ecosystem service benefit and more.

Since these tools cross jurisdictional boundaries, the final products offer the opportunity for those in different jurisdictions to connect, learn from each other and even potentially collaborate on future analysis and projects.

Those looking to develop their own regional effort to understand urban canopy can look to this toolkit for Seven Steps to Building an Urban Tree Canopy Model. Core to this is connecting with partners with different types of expertise and connections.

Graphic courtesy of The Nature Conservancy – Washington

Dig into the Urban Tree Canopy Assessment Toolkit to learn more, explore tools and check out all the different resources to support healthy urban trees! 

Funds for this project were provided by the USDA Forest Service and Community Forestry Program, administered through the State of Washington Department of Natural Resources Urban and Community Forestry Program. The Nature Conservancy partnered with Davey Expert Tree Company, American Forests and City Forest Credits throughout the project.

This article originally appeared in The Nature Conservancy Washington’s Field Notes blog. If you have any questions or would like to discuss this work please connect with Hannah Kett, Urban Program Director at The Nature Conservancy – hannah.kett@tnc.org

Learn more about the economic, health, and climate benefits of urban trees by visiting U.S. Nature4Climate’s Decision-Makers Guide to Natural Climate Solutions.

Blue Carbon: Restoring Coastal Wetlands in Southern California

Conservationists often think of forests as the only suitable ecosystems for natural carbon storage, but thanks to an emerging body of new scientific research, we have learned how blue carbon ecosystems such as salt marshes, seagrass beds, and mangrove forests have real carbon sequestration and storage superpowers. These often overlooked and threatened ecosystems are now considered vital to helping adapt to and mitigate climate change. 

Blue carbon ecosystems are exceptional at storing carbon because they are more effective at burying plants that have settled in the soil. When these plants get buried they do not decompose, which keeps the carbon that is stored in them from being released back into the atmosphere. Coastal blue carbon ecosystems also help make coastal communities more resilient to flooding, provide habitat for wildlife and opportunities for recreation.

The WILDCOAST team restoring coastlines near San Diego. Photo credit: Alita Films

Mangroves, seagrasses, and salt marshes have been storing carbon for millenia. They have amassed so much stored carbon already and have the potential to store so much more, making the conservation, restoration, and management of these ecosystems critical in the fight against climate change. Unfortunately, they also risk emitting that stored carbon back into the atmosphere if they are degraded by rising sea levels and encroaching development. 

That is why WILDCOAST, an international conservation team, is helping to conserve and restore blue carbon ecosystems. In California, we are collaborating with researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography to study the amount of carbon stored in local blue carbon ecosystems. In Mexico we are planting tens of thousands of mangroves in partnership with local fishing communities. By conserving and restoring these ecosystems, we ensure that the carbon stored in them remains in the ground for years to come, and that they will have even greater potential to store more carbon in the ongoing fight against climate change. 

In Southern California, WILDCOAST is working with organizations such as the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy and the Batiquitos Lagoon Foundation to restore some of San Diego County’s iconic coastal wetlands. Community members are helping us to restore these lagoons by removing invasive species of plants, replanting native species, and maintaining trails so that visitors and local residents can respectfully enjoy these natural wonders. 

Photo credit: Alita Films

Many of our volunteers in San Diego County are from Indigenous communities that have been stewarding the coast for time immemorial. These communities have been displaced and disconnected from their coastal spaces.

To this end, WILDCOAST recently launched the Coastal Leaders internship for Indigenous Youth, a year-long opportunity for students from local Indigenous communities to gain hands-on experience in conservation, including blue carbon ecosystem conservation and restoration.

By involving local communities in blue carbon ecosystem protection and restoration we can cultivate the next generation of ocean stewards, thereby ensuring these ecosystems and our planet continue to thrive for generations to come. 

Angela Kemsley is the Conservation Director and Carlos Callado is the California Conservation Coordinator of WILDCOAST. 

WILDCOAST is an international team that conserves coastal and marine ecosystems, and addresses climate change through natural solutions www.wildcoast.org

With No Time to Lose, We Must Keep Score

Photo Credit: Eben Dente/American Forests

I am writing this article at a pivotal moment for America. The country is emerging from a global pandemic that has magnified health inequities, especially in terms of income and race. And climate change is moving faster than expected. During one week in June, for example, there were killer heat waves in the cool Pacific Northwest and flooding in the Great Lakes region.

These elevated stakes help explain why American Forests has made a commitment to keeping score — which we hope will lead to more people taking action to advance social equity and slow climate change, in part through the power of trees.

This started with the launch of our Tree Equity Score in June. This tool, the first of its kind, gives a neighborhood-by-neighborhood and municipal-level assessment of tree cover in every urban area across America. It overlays data that shows where the lack of trees most strongly puts people at risk from extreme heat, air pollution and other climate- fueled threats.

Collectively, the scores tell several compelling stories. For instance, on average, the lowest income neighborhoods have 41% less tree cover than high-income neighborhoods, and neighborhoods with a majority of residents of color have 33% less tree cover than majority white neighborhoods. This has life or death consequences, given that neighborhoods with little to no tree cover can be 10 degrees hotter than the city average during the day, and even more at night. In these same places, there is a higher percentage of people with elevated risk factors, such as heat-related illnesses and deaths because of lack of air conditioning.

That’s where Tree Equity Score comes in. By naming and framing this dangerous inequity with data and putting it online for all to see and explore, we have brought unprecedented attention to the importance of trees in advancing social equity. This includes a major feature in the New York Times, co-authored by our own Ian Leahy, vice president of urban forestry.

But this tool does much more than just identify the problem. It is as easy to use as a smart phone, making it simple for anyone, from city leaders to city residents, to calculate how many trees are needed for a city to achieve Tree Equity in every neighborhood. They also can see the economic and environmental benefits that would be generated, such as the tons of air pollution removed annually and number of jobs supported.

As evidence that Tree Equity Score can catalyze meaningful change, the Phoenix City Council voted in April to achieve Tree Equity in every one of the city’s neighborhoods by 2030. Other cities are following suit. And Congressional leaders, such as U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and U.S. Representative Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), are using it to make the case for unprecedented federal investment in urban trees and forests.

This data-driven approach is not limited to our work in cities. The Reforestation Hub, which we developed in partnership with The Nature Conservancy in January, doesn’t generate scores. But it does use cutting-edge scientific analysis of all U.S. land to identify where more trees could be added, from burn scars on national forests to streamside tree buffers on farms. It identifies a total opportunity of 133 million acres, enough land to plant more than 60 billion trees.

This has huge implications for climate change. That many additional trees would increase annual carbon capture in U.S. forests by more than 40%, equivalent to removing the emissions from 72 million cars.

Like Tree Equity Score, the Reforestation Hub is a free and easy-to-use tool meant to catalyze action. It is searchable county-by-county, enabling everyone to explore how our reforestation opportunities overlap with different land ownerships and conservation purposes, such as wildlife habitat and water protection. It also provides a calculation of the additional carbon capture that would be achieved if a given area were reforested. At American Forests, we use it often to advocate for reforestation legislation and make decisions about where to do our reforestation projects.

I encourage you to jump online and check out these powerful new tools. I hope that you will be inspired by our use of data to measurably challenge America and our own organization to meet this moment.

To learn more about Tree Equity Score, visit treeequityscore.org, and to learn more about the Reforestation Hub, visit reforestationhub.org.

Jad Daley is the President and Chief Executive Officer at American Forests.

This article was originally written for the American Forests website.