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State grant money helps Spokane keep track of, add trees

Courtesy of City of Spokane

A Washington state agency is preparing to spend more than a half million dollars next year to help local communities preserve and plant trees in urban and suburban areas.

The Department of Natural Resources has given grants for this before, but in 2022, it plans to spend about six times more than it has this year.It’s part of the agency’s two-prong effort to improve the health of forests, in rural and wilderness areas and in cities. In rural areas, the goal is to reduce the number and intensity of wildfires. In urban areas, one goal is to preserve trees in areas that are under intense development pressures.

“You might have some single family homes that are near a neighborhood center and that neighborhood center is urbanizing," said Ben Thompson, the manager of DNR’s urban and community forestry program.

“A developer might buy those homes and then turn them into condo units, so you can get more people per square footage on the land. But that means that those single-family properties were probably supporting a healthy tree canopy, either in the front yard or the back yard or both, and so now you don’t have that space anymore because it’s taken up by buildings," he said.

Spokane has been the recipient of some of that urban forest money. The city of Spokane and the Lands Council were awarded $17,000 for their SpoCanopy project to plant thousands of trees, with an emphasis on northeast Spokane, where the canopy layer is less than in other parts of town.

“We only plant street trees, so trees between the sidewalk and the street," said Chelsea Updegrove, the Lands Council's urban canopy coordinator. "We do that for a variety of reasons. The Lands Council’s reason is that they mitigate stormwater really effectively in that location. As an environmental non-profit that’s really important to us. They also create a lot of shade there, for the cement areas, lowering heat island impact.”

The city’s role, says urban forester Katie Kosanke, is to make sure that trees are planted in areas where they’re beneficial.

“There are usually underground utilities on one side and so that means the tree has to be on the other side. You have to be appropriate distances  away from traffic safety signs and intersections and overhead power lines. So there’s a lot of thought that goes to evaluating the site to determine the location could even fit a tree to begin with," she said.

The SpoCanopy goal is to increase the area of the city covered by tree canopies from the current 20% to 40% by 2030.  Chelsea Updegrove, the council’s urban canopy coordinator, says the goal is to increase the number of trees in the city by 40% by 2030.

The Washington state urban and community forestry program is taking grant applications until March 4.