Stimulus could have gotten to root of tree problem

By Michael Fitzgerald
Stockton, CA (March 20, 2009)- Thanks to the federal stimulus bill, it’s raining federal money on Stockton- can I get an Amen?- but the city left one crying need off its wish list: its ailing trees. In case you forgot, City Hall cut tree maintenance so deeply Stockton’s wonderful forest is dying. The stimulus bill is a golden opportunity to save the trees.

“We blew it,” said Mayor Ann Johnston. Can they un-blow it? I sure hope so. Let’s recap. The cash-strapped city reduced crews tending its 135,000 trees- trees without which the city would be as bald as Howie Mandel.
A backlog of more than 20,000 trees need urgent care. Or removal. By one estimate, 3,000 to 5,000 a year are dying when they should live on for years. By a 2007 estimate, this maintenance backlog could be eliminated by a one-time catch-up program for $2.2 million: less money than Stockton Arena loses in a year. Throw in a few million more and afflictions killing thousands of trees, such as mistletoe running rampant in Modesto Ash, could be eliminated.
The city wasn’t shy when begging Washington. It asked for more than $600 million. It would go mostly for roads, another budget area sorely neglected. But in this entire pork-tastic wish list, a half-billion bucks in size, the city asked nothing for trees. “We were told it was going to be more public works type projects, bridge-type projects; shovel-ready type projects, we were told,” said city spokeswoman Connie Cochran. “But what we are seeing is there are other categories.”
Like energy. The city requested $14 million in energy-related funds for solar systems on city buildings, energy-efficient HVAC upgrades and better roofs. I’ll wager if that money were devoted to saving the urban forest instead, the energy savings from shade would dwarf that from solar and HVAC upgrades to a few city buildings.
A U.S. Forest Service study found trees properly planted around buildings reduce air conditioning needs by 30 percent. Thirty percent citywide: That’s huge. “So obviously, trees in the right place around yards, around neighborhoods, make a huge difference as far as energy consumption,” said Mark Derowitsch of the Arbor Day Foundation, a national tree organization.
“You can even expand that,” Derowitsch added. “Trees that line your streets lower the temperature of the cement and lower the urban heat island effect, making temperatures cooler all around.”
There are three ways to pursue tree money. One is to divert HVAC or solar money to trees. Is that legal? Always a good thing to know. Unclear, said City Attorney Ren Nosky. “Typically there’s pretty strong conditions on awards of this kind of money,” Nosky advised. “Let’s just put it this way: It’s a creative idea and I think we would be foolish to rule it out.”
The other approach is to apply for energy efficiency block grants. Those grant guidelines are unclear, too. The Department of Energy, like other galvanized Washington departments, is devising stimulus guidelines on the run. “I actually think if we can make a case for trees reducing the heat island effect by 30 percent, I think that could be an eligible project,” opined Christine Tien, the city community relations officer working on stimulus issues.
The office of our green congressman, Jerry McNerney, said the best shot may be outside the stimulus package. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Urban and Community Forestry Assistance program offers competitive cost-sharing grants for urban forestry projects, a McNerney spokesperson said.
The omission of trees is further proof that this city needs a nonprofit volunteer tree organization. Angels who speak up for trees. You- yes, you- consider making it happen.
Anyway, asking for money costs little. Stockton’s trees desperately need the help. And I feel deeply in my heart President Barack Obama wants us to have this money. So ask, already.
Related Resources:
Stockton Record- Stimulus could have gotten to root of tree problem