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Can Fresno plant 80,000 trees in the next 40 years?

A dense network of street trees covers East Harvard Avenue in the Fresno High neighborhood.
Danielle Bergstrom
A dense network of street trees covers East Harvard Avenue in the Fresno High neighborhood.

Fresno’s first citywide plan for tree cover, known as the urban forest, doesn’t skimp on ambition.

The draft plan, available for public comment until April 30, sets a goal of planting 80,000 new trees in the next 40 years, about 4,600 new trees per year.

In heat-stricken Fresno, trees can be one of the best antidotes to the ‘urban heat island effect,’ the name scientists use to describe the higher temperatures often seen in cities as a result of sunlight reflection on pavement and other impermeable surfaces.

According to research from Climate Central, Fresno’s urban core has one of the most intense contrasts in temperatures compared to surrounding areas.

Trees bring a myriad of benefits, from improving air quality, lowering utility bills, lowering crime rates, raising property values and improving physical and mental health.

But right now, depending on what neighborhood you live in, Fresno tree cover is scarce, at just 14.6% of the entire city. Some neighborhoods–like southwest, south central, or near the airport–have less than 5% tree canopy cover.

As a result, some of those neighborhoods can be up to 9 degrees hotter in the summer than surrounding rural and suburban areas.

The Fresno tree cover calls for increasing the citywide tree cover to 20% in the next 40 years, with a strong emphasis on prioritizing new tree planting and maintenance in neighborhoods with the highest pollution burden and poverty rates.

The city is estimated to lose about 1,600 trees per year to tree mortality and removal.

City leaders haven’t paid much attention to the urban forest until recently. A 2022 city council resolution, sponsored by Councilmember Tyler Maxwell, committed the city to planting 1,000 trees per year, and dedicated $50,000 of funding annually for a youth jobs corps to help with planting.

Before the resolution, the city planted just 339 trees per year from 2019 to 2022. In the 2023 fiscal year, 2,253 trees were planted, still short of the 4,600 annual tree planting goal that the new plan calls for.

The city also increased funding for tree maintenance in 2021, with a goal of getting on a 10-year pruning cycle to better maintain the current urban forest.

Is there room for 80,000 more trees in Fresno? The plan notes the city already has 30,000 vacant tree wells.

But planting trees, according to the plan, will not be enough. Community feedback through online surveys and workshops emphasized the need for better irrigation and maintenance support.

Most of the city’s street trees are on property owned by the city, but watering them is the responsibility of the adjacent property owner. Many homeowners don’t realize that, the plan notes. Without more dedicated resources to irrigation, the plan notes, the city will fall far short of its goals to improve the tree canopy.

Other findings from the report:

  • The researchers behind the report, Dudek, also suggested the city evaluate how it can improve regulations and penalties for private property owners who remove trees.
  • Fresno’s current urban forest lacks species diversity, which can create problems as climate change increases the heat island effect and brings new pests. The report suggests adding more trees that are adapted to Fresno’s future climate.
  • Community members would like to have more educational and engagement opportunities to participate in city efforts to improve the canopy, both on public and private property.

To provide feedback or suggestions on the Fresno tree cover plan, send an email to forestry@fresno.gov no later than April 30.

This article first appeared on Fresnoland and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.