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Historic nationwide investments expand equitable access to trees, nature

Undersecretary Homer Wilkes
Under Secretary Homer Wilkes, Natural Resources and Environment

There is a common phrase that resonates with me that I think reflects this moment very well: “Blessed are those who plant trees under whose shade they will never sit.”  

Today, Secretary Vilsack announced that the USDA Forest Service is investing more than $1 billion through urban and community forestry competitive grants. These grants will fund nearly 400 projects nationwide that will significantly increase access—across the nation and especially in underserved urban communities—to trees and the social, health and economic benefits they provide. 

I’m proud to celebrate alongside you in delivering these historic investments.

The funding for these grants was made possible by the Inflation Reduction Act through the Forest Service's Urban and Community Forestry program. They will go to community-based organizations, tribes, municipal and state governments, nonprofit partners and universities, and other eligible entities working to increase access to trees and nature.

Here is why I think these investments are so important: Scientific research has shown us time and again that trees make a real, tangible difference at the community level. Trees clean the air and provide shade, improving air quality and reducing average temperatures. It’s no surprise, then, that trees in communities are associated with better health outcomes.

But the benefits extend beyond the ecological and health aspects. Trees and green spaces provide safe spaces for kids and families to recreate, places of rest and spiritual renewal, and inspire community engagement. Community trees can even attract other kinds of investments, bringing skilled jobs and new economic opportunities.

These investments will plant and maintain trees in urban communities where tree cover is thin. These investments will help provide relief from the historic heat waves we are seeing across the country, which disproportionately affect communities of color. I can’t say loudly enough, this work is vital to the health of our urban communities: By providing green spaces to people where they live, work and play, we are delivering the multifold benefits of trees to people.

Thanks to the hard work of the Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry staff and 87 USDA employees who volunteered to review grant applications, 100% of the benefits will flow to historically marginalized communities. Funding will span all 50 states, the District of Columbia, two U.S. territories, three U.S.-affiliated Pacific islands and multiple tribal communities.

Ensuring that all these investments will directly support communities that need them most has been no small feat. I applaud all those in USDA who made it happen. You may never personally sit under the shade of these trees, but you have done a remarkable thing for families around this country.

More information about the funded proposals, as well as announcements about the grant program, is available on the Forest Service website.

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