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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane-area urban forestry to be supercharged with $12 million federal grants

Kat Hall, of The Lands Council, second from left, sets a magnolia tree in front yard near the corner of Oak Street and York Avenue, with help from Hannah Tomsha. left, Amber Ratcliff, and Alison Holstad, Thursday, April 27, 2023, in Spokane. Spokane Urban Forestry, in partnership with The Lands Council, planted trees throughout the week with teams of volunteers in the lead up to Arbor Day.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

The city of Spokane’s Urban Forestry will receive $6 million in federal funds over five years to plant and maintain trees in economically disadvantaged areas of the city.

This is a major infusion of cash into efforts that typically only have around $200,000 a year, said Katie Kosanke, Spokane’s urban forester.

“We get plenty of grants, but they’re never this substantial,” she said in a Friday interview. “We’re really thrilled because we’re going to make a huge difference with this funding.”

The grant, provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the Inflation Reduction Act, will be focused on bringing trees to economically disadvantaged areas of the city, including the lower South Hill, downtown, most of northeast Spokane and many other northern corners of the city, Kosanke said.

“These are the areas we know have the lowest canopy cover and don’t have those benefits trees provide like cooling and storm water mitigation,” she added.

A city’s trees bring more benefits than just boosting the aesthetics of the surrounding area, including stormwater interception, air quality improvements and a reduction in the energy needed to cool a house. A 2021 study by the city, in partnership with The Spokane Lands Council and Gonzaga University, estimated that the city’s trees provide more than a million dollars’ worth of benefits to Spokane and its residents annually just from removing particulates and other pollutants from the air and by intercepting stormwater that the city’s utilities would otherwise have to manage.

A more recent study by Gonzaga found that areas with significant tree canopy coverage can be dramatically cooler on hot summer days, which reduces energy usage from cooling systems and prolongs the life of pavement.

The city’s trees also remove thousands of tons of carbon dioxide over the course of their lives, with the urban canopy in just the Latah/Hangman neighborhood sequestering an estimated 1,470 tons of carbon annually.

In order to maximize these benefits, the city’s Urban Forestry division wants to see 30% of the city’s surface area covered by tree canopy by 2030. But coverage from the urban tree canopy varies dramatically by neighborhood and City Council district, with lower-income areas like the East Central Neighborhood generally having the lowest coverage. The city’s northeast council district has nearly 14% coverage, while the more affluent district south of the Spokane River is nearly 25% covered by tree canopy.

Some of the federal money likely will be used to create an up-to-date inventory of street trees, including those that are dead or in urgent need of care, and some funding will be dedicated to maintenance, including the initial work needed for a tree to become established, Kosanke said. While she expects the number of trees planted to be significant, a full plan for the grant money is expected to be created in coming weeks.

Another $6 million has been awarded through the same federal program to the Spokane County Conservation District.

According to a Friday press release, the Conservation District will use the funds to buoy its Natural Resource Apprenticeship Program, expanding forestry career opportunities and education programs, including summer programs for local high school students.

“We are really excited about the opportunity this opens up for our future stewards of the land,” wrote Garth Davis, Spokane Conservation District forestry manager, in the press release.

“It becomes a matter of bringing up a new generation of people who care for the land and teaching them the delicate balance of our natural resources and human interaction,” Davis continued.