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Conservation Group: Jacksonville Has Much To Gain From Planting Trees

Pictured is a street in the Secret Woods subdivision on Jacksonville's Southside.
BILL BORTZFIELD / WJCT NEWS
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Trees lower air temperature by up to 7 degrees during the day, according to American Forests. Pictured is a street in the Secret Woods subdivision on Jacksonville's Southside.

Jacksonville is among 20 large U.S. cities with the most to gain from planting trees, according to a new tracking tool unveiled by American Forests, which is the nation’s oldest national conservation commission.

American Forests has rolled out what it calls the Tree Equity Score (TES), which breaks down the health, economic and climate benefit numbers that could be achieved by increasing the tree canopy.

Overall, Jacksonville has a fairly high overall TES score of 91 out of a possible 100. The mapping system breaks the city down into census blocks to illustrate the disparities in different areas.

For example, the area around UF Health Jacksonville hospital in Springfield has a score of 40, with a current canopy cover of 17%, while the Kensington area on the Southside near Craig Executive Airport has a score of 99, with a current canopy cover of 40%.

Downtown Jacksonville received a score of 59 with a current canopy cover of 12%. American Forests also set goals for each census tract measured. As example, the TES gives Downtown a canopy cover goal of 48%.

The TES tracking tool combined socioeconomic status, existing tree cover, population density and other information for 150,000 neighborhoods and 486 metropolitan areas to come up with the scores.

Related: Jacksonville TES map

American Forests, which was established in 1875, estimates that achieving tree equity nationwide would require planting 522 million trees, coast to coast, in metropolitan areas (places with 50,000+ people). Doing so would  annually absorb 9.3 million tons of carbon – the equivalent of taking 92 million cars off the roads, according to American Forests. 

As the trees mature, they would mitigate 56,613 tons of particle pollution annually.

"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, in a news release. "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."

The mapping, which is also broken down by ethnicity, age and poverty levels, shows – in general - trees are sparsest in under-resourced neighborhoods and more prominent in wealthier, often whiter communities across the country.

American Forests said its findings confirm what the organization calls "a disturbing pattern of inequitable distribution of trees that has deprived many communities of color of the health and other benefits that sufficient tree cover can deliver."

American Forests asserts if communities increase their Tree Equity Scores the benefits would include:

  • Cooler temperatures, fewer deaths and illnesses. By providing shade, trees help prevent heat-related illnesses and deaths. Trees lower air temperature by up to seven degrees during the day and 22 degrees at night while absorbing pollutants, making it easier to breathe. Trees also help improve mental and physical health when outside exercising or relaxing under and around them. American Forests research in Dallas showed heat-related deaths could drop by 22% with a combination of trees and reflective surfaces.
  • Boosting the economy. Planting and taking care of trees can create jobs all along the urban forestry supply pipeline, from digging holes to taking care of trees to creating wood furniture, plus numerous adjacent jobs held by people who support these workers (i.e., tool manufacturers, restaurants, shippers, etc).Trees also lower utility costs by shading buildings in the summer and blocking wind in the winter. 
  • Mitigating climate change. Trees in urban areas of the U.S. are responsible for 20% of all of the carbon emissions that forests in the U.S. capture and store. That amounts to nearly 2% of overall U.S. carbon emissions. More trees would also result in less use of air conditioners and heaters, resulting in millions of tons of carbon that would not be admitted. Trees also help negate the impact of climate change by absorbing water (which reduces flood risks) and reducing air temperatures.

Bill Bortzfield can be reached at bbortzfield@wjct.org or on Twitter at @BortzInJax.