By Rebecca Bear, President and CEO
The warmest days in modern history took place this month, with record-breaking heat across the globe. In 2021, Washington experienced the worst heat wave in recent history, with 100 deaths between June 26 – July 2. A quarter of those deaths occurred in King County, the state’s most populous and diverse. Adding to the challenge, Seattle is the least air-conditioned large metro area in the US – just 33.7% of Seattle Area households are air-conditioned.
During heat events, Seattle and King County residents depend on tree canopy for its natural cooling effects. You will find people out in parks, under the shade of trees as a way of staying cool each summer. But unfortunately, not all areas of Seattle and King County have equitable tree coverage. According to the Washington State Environmental Health Disparities map, the industrialized riverways of the Duwamish and Green Rivers, which pass through South Seattle, Tukwila, Burien, and Kent, have the highest environmental health disparities and the highest population of immigrants and communities of color in the state. This same region has the lowest level of tree canopy and lost 3.5% canopy in the last five years. During heat waves, this can result in a 20-degree temperature variance compared to areas of the city with more trees. In 2021, ground temperatures in the Duwamish Valley exceeded 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
To counteract the impacts of heat and other impacts of climate change, trees provide a significant natural service to our community. Here are a few important tree canopy facts:
A major movement is underway to advance tree canopy work throughout the country and world. Recently the State of Washington Department of Natural Resources announced its adoption of the American Forests Tree Equity Partnership, which will drive tree canopy investment throughout Washington State urban forests. In addition, Mayor Bruce Harrell announced a series of efforts to address the city’s tree canopy goal of 30% coverage including:
– Over the next five years, plant 8,000 trees on both public and private properties; plant 40,000 trees in parks and natural areas; and perform maintenance on 40,000 trees.
– By the end of 2023, implement a policy to require three trees to be planted for every healthy, site-appropriate tree removed from city property. The same policy will require two trees to be planted for every tree that dies or is deemed hazardous or invasive.
– By the end of 2024, develop a Tree Canopy Equity and Resilience Plan for achieving Seattle’s tree canopy goals.
Seattle Parks Foundation is committed to ensuring the effectiveness of city, county and state initiatives focused on tree equity and canopy health. This summer we launched an ambitious effort to create the Seattle Tree Canopy Network. This network will bring together community-driven organizations throughout Seattle and King County and government agencies to address gaps in funding and coordination around tree canopy projects. Our goal is to bring federal, state, local and private and foundation funds together in a coordinated large-scale investment in tree canopy where our communities need it most. We will focus our work in four key areas:
1. Catalyzing community driven canopy work, because when you care about the trees in your neighborhood they thrive!
2. Connecting volunteers to meaningful tree canopy work through partners and projects.
3. Growing green jobs, particularly in communities with low tree equity.
4. Educating the next generation by connecting them to tree canopy projects.
Our grassroots community partnerships and relationships with government agencies make us well suited to be a convenor of this work. But we can’t do it without your support. We must build our team, and we need “all hands in the dirt” helping us ensure the success of this project. If you have an interest in helping see the Seattle Tree Canopy Network thrive, please reach out to us and let us know how you might want to participate. You can also contribute to our efforts by making a donation today.