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Arlington seeks $1.9 million federal grant to plant trees on school grounds and in less-leafy neighborhoods

Trees in Glencarlyn (Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick)

Arlington County is seeking $1.9 million in federal funding to plant trees on school grounds and in neighborhoods with less tree canopy.

The funding will help maintain 4,400 trees, plant 400 additional trees and treat 138 acres of invasive species, a county report said. If the county receives the funding, tree planting could begin as soon as next summer.

On Saturday, the Arlington County Board retroactively approved an application county staff filed with the federal government last month. The funding would come from the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, via a grant program supporting local efforts to address tree canopy and green space shortages in underserved communities and mitigate the effects of climate change.

With the grant, the county says it is “seeking to improve the livability of neighborhoods with historic and current tree equity deficits.”

While Arlington has an overall tree canopy level of 41%, it varies significantly by neighborhood, according to a 2017 county report. More urban and historically disadvantaged neighborhoods tend to have lower canopy levels, some below 20%, while wealthier, less dense neighborhoods had levels exceeding 70%.

A 2023 citizen-funded study suggests these canopy levels could be even lower.

Tree canopy cover by civic association in Arlington in 2017 (via Arlington County)

Last year, the local nonprofit EcoAction Arlington embarked on a multi-year effort to tackle these inequities. The county says the federal funding would boost this effort while also halving the current 16-year turnaround time for pruning and maintaining its 19,500 street trees.

“This turnaround time is too long to proactively reduce risk from tree or branch failure, which often affects lower income residents more,” the county report said.

“Plant healthcare will prevent or delay tree decline, particularly of trees at risk from invasive species and the impact of climate change,” it continued. “It will help save mature trees, which have significant embodied carbon and provide the greatest ecosystem service to our community.”

Plantings will target neighborhoods with an “equity score” below 100, according to the forest conservation group American Forests. The nonprofit has a map showing Arlington’s varying tree canopy levels and how that maps onto other indicators, such as socioeconomic diversity.

The county will also focus planting efforts on school properties, which have low tree canopy levels owing to black tops and large buildings. It says Arlington schools have an average tree canopy level of 23%, while green space makes up less than 25% of land.

Tree canopy gaps in Arlington (via American Forests)

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