U.S. Forest Service awards US$726,000 in grants to organizations in New York, Texas, Illinois to improve climate, public health with urban forestry projects

WASHINGTON , August 16, 2011 (press release) – The USDA Forest Service recently awarded $726,000 to organizations in New York, Texas and Illinois for projects advancing understanding of the relationships between the urban forest, climate change and public health.

The National Urban and Community Forestry Advisory Council, established to advise the Secretary of Agriculture on the national urban and community forestry program, made recommendations for these awards. The awards were matched by recipients to total almost $1.9 million.

The connection between urban forests, the public and environmental health have long been known to ecologists and health professionals, and new studies continue to reinforce those links, sometimes in surprising ways.

“Urban trees are the hardest working trees in America,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “Among a host of other benefits, they clean the air we breathe, keep pollutants out of our drinking water and provide energy savings by shading our buildings. These grants will help us improve how we use trees to benefit our neighborhoods.”

A total award of $566,963 was granted to the State University of New York (SUNY) College of Environmental Science and Forestry to improve the existing i-Tree tool. The i-Tree software suite provides urban planners and foresters an easy, free means of determining how and where trees can best benefit their cities, towns, neighborhoods and municipal buildings. The SUNY study will allow communities to plan urban forest designs and assess their impact on carbon storage, air temperature, energy use, and air and water pollution.

The National Wildlife Federation in Austin, Texas, was granted $768,091 for its Natural Play and Learning Areas National Guidelines Project. The project aims to restore children's relationships with nature by bringing nature to schools, child-care centers, parks, museums and zoos.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign received $563,589 to study how urban forests can help reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease and stroke, the number one and number three killers of Americans. The costs of cardiovascular disease and stroke nationwide are about $344.9 billion annually. Recent evidence suggests that people living in healthy urban forests experience about 5 percent fewer incidences of these diseases. That equates to an annual savings of $17.2 billion—many times what is spent nationally on urban forest programs. Their research findings will also be incorporated with the free i-Tree tool.

“These important grants are just one way that the Forest Service is working to improve American communities,” said Tidwell. “Our Cooperative Forestry branch is working in some 7,000 communities across the country to bring the benefits of the forest to our main streets and backyards.”

The mission of the Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. Recreational activities on National Forest System land contribute $14.5 billion annually to the U.S. economy. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world.

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