Urban-forestry grant will go toward advice center

By Lily Leung

San Diego, CA (September 13, 2010)- A Kearny Mesa-based nonprofit group has handed out 32,000 free trees around San Diego County over six years to increase shady areas and reduce the strain on air conditioners. Leaders of the California Center for Sustainable Energy said the initiative was successful, but one thing was missing: education about tree maintenance.

To address that, the organization will create a center to offer people free advice about how to care for their trees. The effort is funded by a $400,000 urban forestry grant from CAL FIRE, a state fire protection and forestry agency. The new forestry center will be based out of the energy group’s existing facility, where officials hope to reach an estimated 100,000 people who pass through their office annually.

Energy center officials will hire an urban tree expert to lead the forestry initiative, helping with walk-ins and taking calls from the public. The center, expected to open by the end of the year, also will feature hands-on displays offering tips about sustainable landscapes and urban forestry. See the job description here.

The center’s target audience is people who “don’t know which tree to plant, the steps to take to plant them and where to go” for help, said Dr. Andrea Cook, who manages the energy center’s climate-change program. Cook said trees offer numerous benefits such as improving air and water quality, and provide homes with shade, which helps save energy.

Since 2004, the energy center has given out thousands of free trees through its Cool Communities Shade Tree Program. The program’s funding has ended. CAL FIRE’s urban-forestry program, which helps local governments and nonprofit groups, awarded $5 million in grants during fiscal 2010. No money was released the previous year because of a bond freeze, said John Melvin, a state urban forester.

The Urban Corps of San Diego, another grant recipient in 2010, received more than $100,000 for a rooftop garden to provide educational sessions for students from 12 elementary and middle schools.

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Sign On San Diego- Urban-forestry grant will go toward advice center