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Communities Find Trees are Cool

The trees that line our streets are about to have their day in the sun.

New Federal funds are set to flow to Illinois towns – particularly underserved and disadvantaged communities – meaning more people will soon be able to share in the benefits of “urban forests.”

The term “Urban Forest” means exactly that. Seen from the air, many communities look more like forests than towns. Stretching to the horizon, the canopy of trees is broken only now and then by tall buildings, church steeples, and water towers. 

Trees in cities remove carbon dioxide from the air, but they do even more. They help cool houses during summer, block the wind in winter, give wildlife and birds places to live, and beautify our neighborhoods. 

Michael Brunk manages IDNR’s Urban and Community Forestry program that provides funding, expertise, and other resources so cities and towns to keep their forests healthy. He also works closely with communities seeking the Tree City USA designation offered by the Arbor Day Foundation.

Brunk says urban forests can be taken for granted, even though they provide important “green infrastructure” that benefits everyone. “It is critical that we recognize the importance of a cohesive relationship [between] our natural and built environments,” he said.

Tree planting often is an afterthought when designing cities, he said. And maintenance of trees is not always prioritized. Smaller communities and those with low tax bases simply may not be able to afford the expense of tree trimming, removal, and replanting.

That’s where new funds for Urban and Community Forestry come in.

A grant from the Federal government will contribute $13.85 million to be distributed in Illinois to support communities that need support with tree maintenance and management. Brunk and IDNR serve as the point of contact for communities and the funds that will pass through.

Those communities especially need funds to remove hazardous ash trees killed by the emerald ash borer and then plant a diverse selection of trees to replace them. 

Brunk works closely with partners like Trees Forever, the Morton Arboretum and the Conservation Foundation to put urban forestry dollars into action. Community groups and volunteers also play a key role in helping Brunk get as much done as possible.

Brunk said trees need to be front of mind as people work to improve quality of life.

“Part of our uphill battle is to secure the preservation of urban and community trees as a priority for development, and be innovative in building new urban spaces,” he said. “Too often, this does not happen.”

The new Federal funds available for Urban and Community Forestry may help change that. 

Brunk says we need more long-term thinking when we consider the value of trees. 

“Our society needs greater long term and sustainable planning,” he said. “The interface between the natural and built environments should be recognized and prioritized.”

“It’s up to us. The trees can’t vote. They can’t decide where the roads go.”