Thousands of new trees will soon take root in cities across Minnesota thanks to a $10 million federal grant received by the St. Paul-based nonprofit Great River Greening.
The trees will help cool identified urban heat islands in Faribault, Owatonna, Brooklyn Center, St. Cloud and St. Paul — areas where a lack of tree canopy and heat bouncing off concrete exacerbate the broil of climate change and create potentially deadly conditions.
The $10 million award will finance the planting of nearly 14,000 trees over the next five years under a new project called Cooling Minnesota Communities. Planting will start in the spring, said Great River Greening Executive Director Kateri Routh.
"We're thrilled," Routh said. "This has the potential to make a huge impact on how people are living and enjoying their communities for decades to come."
The grant came from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service through the federal Inflation Reduction Act, the huge climate bill Congress passed last year. It's the largest award Great River Greening has received in its decadeslong history, Routh said.
The new tree program will focus on environmental justice, targeting lower-income areas and communities of color, she said. The trees will be planted on school campuses, city lands, regional parks and at homes.
She said they used the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool provided by the federal government to help identify areas.
Great River Greening is partnering with 15 other groups to plant, support and nurture the trees, including city governments, school districts and other agencies and nonprofits.
The program will include free tree giveaways to residents too, she said. Details are being fleshed out but they will be held in the spring and fall.
The plantings will be a diverse mix of climate resilient trees, and native species such as oaks and the large-leaved catalpa trees with their long seed pods. The program also will offer "gator bags," those familiar slow-release water bags often seen around the base of trees.