Following years of neglect, during which the tree canopy fell to less than half that of New York City’s, Jersey City will receive a $2 million grant from the federal government for tree planting.
The grant was announced last month by Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette. Today Mayor Fulop followed up with his own announcement providing more detail on how the money would be used.
“We will use the grant funding to help pay for over 160 trees and other green infrastructure improvements along Martin Luther King Drive as part of our ongoing work with community partners to help revitalize Jackson Hill into the thriving commercial corridor it once was” said Fulop.
The federal grant comes as welcome news to local environmental activists for whom Jersey City’s shrinking tree canopy has been of concern for years. A 2020 study found that the city’s tree cover had shrunk 6.1% since 2015 and stood at a paltry 10.9%, less than half the average for urban areas. By way of comparison, in 2017, New York City had a tree canopy cover of 22 percent.
But the 160 trees will come nowhere near what is necessary to rebuild the tree canopy. In a scathing 2017 memo that lambasted Mayor Fulop, then forester Ryan Metz called for the planing of 25,000 trees. “Planting around 2,000 trees per year for ten years and the remaining 5,000 [to replace dead trees] over the next five would put Jersey City in a very good place in terms of canopy cover.” Mayor Fulop said the city is on track to plant 350 trees this year.
Nonetheless, Debra Italiano, Founder and Chair of Sustainable JC put a positive spin on the grant. “This USDA Urban and Community Forestry grant award is a really exciting opportunity to build momentum for tree canopy restoration and a green infrastructure conservancy initiative for Jersey City that will improve the quality of life here.”
According to Fulop, a new tree planting strategy designed for long-term resiliency planning will address mitigating stormwater flooding and urban heat island effects. The grant money will also establish different programs to maintain and expand the city’s urban forestry efforts including hiring and training seasonal workers for the forestry team, creation of paid “Youth Tree Ambassador Programs” and workshops to engage residents.
Funding was made possible through the federal Inflation Reduction Act. The 10 grants to New Jersey municipalities ranged from $548,280 to Kearny to $8 million to Newark. Hoboken received $1 million and Camden $3 million.
Fulop also announced a grant of over $800,000 from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Water Quality and Restoration Program that will help fund green infrastructure improvements on MLK Drive, including the installation of rain gardens and bioswales.
Scientists say the benefits of trees are manifold. According to a study published in the magazine Science, “The restoration of trees remains among the most effective strategies for climate change mitigation.” One study estimated that $4 million worth of carbon is captured by Jersey City’s trees every year.
The benefits go beyond climate change, however. According to The New York Times, poor urban neighborhoods “can be 5 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit hotter in summer than wealthier, whiter parts of the same city” because of a lack of trees and an excess of heat trapping concrete. Thus, planting trees can also be a force for social justice, say advocates.
Keeping the new trees healthy will be of paramount concern, say experts. In light of the limited budget, a 2021 study by Davey Resource Group, a multinational tree care consulting company, recommended that Jersey City prioritize all forms of tree maintenance over tree planting. “I agree that maintenance is number one” said Jersey City Forester Mike DiCiancia last year.
The city is asking anyone interested in volunteering for Jersey City’s tree planting efforts to contact the Jersey City Department of Infrastructure at 201-547-4727.