The United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service announced during the weekend that California is to receive $102.8 million in grants for 43 projects across the state focusing on tree planting and greenspaces, becoming the largest recipient in the total amount of just over $1 billion given nationwide.
Concern over the correlation between a lack of tree canopy in areas and higher temperatures than surrounding areas with more tree cover became a major catalyst for the grants to be given by the Forest Service. In an announcement, the Forest Service specifically noted that the grants would be given to plant and maintain trees, combat extreme heat and climate change, increase equitable access to trees and nature and improve access to nature in cities, towns, and suburbs. The Forest Service also said that funding for the grants would be coming from funds in the Inflation Reduction Act, a $891 billion budget relocation bill passed last year in Washington that aims at reducing inflation by focusing on lowering the budget deficit, lowering prescription drug prices, and putting more money into energy and climate change programs.
“These investments arrive as cities across the country experience record-breaking heatwaves that have grave impacts on public health, energy consumption, and overall well-being,” said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “Thanks to President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, we are supporting communities in becoming more resilient to climate change and combatting extreme heat with the cooling effects of increased urban tree canopy, while also supporting employment opportunities and professional training that will strengthen local economies.”
“Unfortunately, the difficulties and challenges we’ve seen with weather are not going to go away. We’re going to continue to be challenged by Mother Nature, so we want to make sure that our communities are more resilient and more capable of withstanding what Mother Nature may have in store.”
California’s $102.8 million in grants is by far the highest amount given to one state, with the next closest being New York, who is to get $73.5 million. Of the 43 projects being funded in California, the largest is $12 million slated to go to the San Francisco Public Works Bureau of Urban Forestry. Under the “Justice, Jobs and Trees: A San Francisco Climate Solution” program, thousands of trees are to be planted in areas with little to no tree canopies, with the goal being to reduce extreme heat in areas of the city. The San Francisco program also noted that the program would create many temporary green jobs in the city as a result.
“This grant funding will help more cities and towns plant and maintain trees, which in turn will filter out pollution, reduce energy consumption, lower temperatures and provide more Californians access to green spaces in their communities,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) about the program earlier this year.
Other high amounts of funding include $10 million going to the City of San Diego for the “Ready, Set, Grow San Diego” program to plant and preserve trees in areas with low tree equity. $8 million grants are also going to two separate programs each in the Los Angeles area to plant trees on public and private property to reduce heat mitigation and reduce the tree canopy deficit in certain areas of LA County.
Over $100 million to California in Forest Service grants
The Forest Service grants will also be on top of the regular state allocation grants usually given each year, which for California amounts to $43.2 million. Experts told the Globe on Monday that while the grants are likely to not be contested, there is still much concern about where the money came from in the first place.
“Planting trees in areas where there are not many and providing more shade and reducing temperatures in hotter areas of the state are all positive things that the vast majority of people are generally for,” said environmental funding researcher Nate Corning. “When funding comes in the form of grants, it’s usually even better. People on both sides of the aisle also like the parts about job creation as a result, with more coming in through the private sector as contractors or through local governments. Helping areas be less hot with more tree shade cover is also much appreciated.”
“For this program, however, it can get contentious. And that is because it is coming from the very controversial Inflation Reduction Act. It comes through the Forest Service and Agriculture, yeah, but the money is coming straight from there. Forest Service even said so in their press release.”
“The Act had nearly a trillion go out to all sorts of projects, with a big focus being on environmental projects to help with energy and environmental concerns. Lack of tree cover causing higher temperatures in urban areas is environmental, so there you go. But to show you just how controversial this act was, it was at a 50-50 deadlock in the Senate in 2022 and was only passed because Vice President Harris was the tie-breaking vote. It actually shocked many Democrats who thought that the bill had no chance primarily because of all the environmental funding in it.”
“People will appreciate more shade, cities and companies will appreciate more jobs, and city beautification is liked by everyone. but the act is still very controversial, and all of these programs are going to have that undercurrent of that around them. The grants are good, but we’re only getting them because somehow that part of the Act somehow slipped through Congress and caused a huge furor. But you can bet that they won’t mention that during the green area dedication ceremonies.”
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