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Studies Show Need for NYC Urban Forest Growth

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Wednesday, December 15, 2021   

NEW YORK -- New research shows how expanding New York City's urban forest would benefit New Yorkers' lives in the long term.

According to The Nature Conservancy report, urban forests do more than enhance people's quality of life. They help cities retain storm water, provide habitat for animals, reduce summer temperatures and store greenhouse gases.

Emily Nobel Maxwell, New York Cities program director for The Nature Conservancy-New York and co-author of the report, explained historic zoning and housing policies have contributed to less tree canopy in many communities of color and lower-income neighborhoods, despite city efforts to plant more trees and keep them alive.

"The forest is still inequitably distributed, and there are some neighborhoods that have much less canopy," Nobel Maxwell pointed out. "And particularly in the face of climate change, that's a significant challenge."

The study highlights a need for more tree canopy due to threats from major storms and extreme heat, both made worse by climate change. As of 2017, New York City's overall tree canopy was about 22%. The Nature Conservancy report encouraged the city to reach a goal of 30% by 2035.

Nobel Maxwell said future plans for the urban forest must put neighborhoods first that are most at risk.

"As we continue to make investments in our urban forest, it's really important to prioritize both low-income communities and communities of color," Nobel Maxwell asserted. "And also, coastal communities are more subject to the impacts of climate change."

In a related report, The Nature Conservancy and the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance explored the need for more nature-based jobs in New York City.

Victoria Sanders, research analyst for the Alliance, sees greater investments in the field as a path to greater climate resiliency, through "green" infrastructure.

"So many of the jobs for the nature of New York City, are seasonal, low-paying, they don't have good and reliable job trajectories for growth," Sanders observed. "And so, it doesn't incentivize people to work in those areas."

According to the jobs report, fewer than 100 foresters are employed in New York City, with lower wages compared to the national median.

Disclosure: The Nature Conservancy in New York-Long Island contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Environment, Public Lands/Wilderness, and Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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