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For Decades, Rochester Has Suffered From Declining Tree Canopy – With Poorer Neighborhoods And Communities Of Color Having 30+% Fewer Trees – Creating Urban Heat Islands, Worsening Historic Inequities, Health Disparities, And More

Schumer Stood In Rochester Earlier This Year And Then Personally Called USDA Secretary Vilsack To Advocate For Rochester To Be Among The First To Tap Historic Funding He Secured For Urban Forest Programs In The Inflation Reduction Act – The Largest Investment In Fighting Climate Change Ever – And Now Nearly 6,000 New Trees Will Soon Line Rochester’s Streets Thanks To Fed Funding Schumer Secured

Schumer: Inflation Reduction Act Is Planting The Seed For A Healthier, Cleaner, And Greener Rochester!

After standing in Rochester earlier this year promising to help make it one of the first communities to tap this historic funding he secured in the Inflation Reduction Act, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer today delivered on his promise securing $3 million in federal funding for the City of Rochester to work toward the City’s goal of planting 6,000 new trees across the city through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry grants program. Schumer personally called USDA Secretary Vilsack to advocate for the Rochester project after meeting with community leaders on the importance of the funding. The senator said this federal investment will finally get to the root cause of the systemic economic and health inequalities that have resulted from inequitable tree canopy cover in Rochester by greatly expanding the city’s tree coverage and breathing new life into areas that currently lack green space.

“I promised to help Rochester neighborhoods find their spot in the shade and plant the seeds for a brighter future, and now I am proud to say a promise made is now a promise kept with Rochester as one of the first in the nation to tap the historic funding I secured in the Inflation Reduction Act to plant thousands of news trees across the city. This critical $3 million federal investment is more than just thousands of new luscious, vibrant trees – it means cleaner air, a better environment, improved quality of life, and rooting out historic inequities that have been seen across Rochester neighborhoods,” said Senator Schumer. “I fought hard to plant this funding in the Inflation Reduction Act so that places like Rochester, and cities across Upstate New York, could have access to the funding they have long needed to breathe new life into our most underserved neighborhoods. Now a greener, healthier, and more equitable Rochester will finally take root and blossom.”

“I want to thank Senator Schumer for helping the City of Rochester invest in our future and for championing our efforts at the Federal level for additional funds for the City’s Tree Expansion and Beautification program,” said Rochester Mayor Malik D. Evans. “Equity, compassion, and hope for the city are at the heart of this program. We know that trees add value to a home, a neighborhood, and, most critically, our community’s health and well-being. The trees we plant will be equitably placed across the city, ensuring that everyone will benefit from all that trees offer for generations to come.”

Schumer explained that in Rochester, the difference in canopy cover ? the amount of an area covered by trees, as seen from above ? differs by more than 30 percent from the most tree-covered neighborhood to the least. The senator said that when a neighborhood lacks trees it can lead to a variety of problems, from increased air pollution, urban heat islands, to poor health outcomes, which are on top of negative economic impacts like decreased property values. For years, Rochester has struggled to add trees and green space, in large part due to a lack of funding. In the last four-year period, from 2018 to 2021, the city planted 2,335 new trees but removed 2,771, a net loss of 436. Schumer said that the Inflation Reduction Act, the largest investment in fighting climate change, which he led to passage as Majority Leader has finally created the robust funding needed to tackle this problem in Rochester and other cities across New York.

Earlier this year, Senator Schumer visited Rochester and launched a major push to help the city become one of the first in the nation to tap the historic funding provided for USDA’s Urban and Community Forestry Program to help meet the City’s goal of planting 6,000 new trees across the city over the next three years. The federal funding Schumer delivered today will work to remedy the systemic economic and health inequalities worsened by the lack of green space and unbalanced tree coverage across neighborhoods. Schumer said now thanks to the historic increases he secured in the Inflation Reduction Act, Rochester can work on growing the historic city of gardens, arborists, and nurseries.  

The Inflation Reduction Act included $1.5 billion over the next 10 years for the U.S. Forest Service's Urban and Community Forestry program, more than five times the current level of funding. Earlier this year, Rochester Mayor Malik Evans put together a comprehensive Tree Expansion and Beautification Program plan, which he used to apply for this historic new funding to plant 6,000 trees and bring every neighborhood in the City to an 85% stocking rate, increasing the public tree inventory to 70,000 by the end of 2025.  An 85% stocking rate means a street tree will be planted in 85% of the places that can possibly accommodate a tree.  This project is estimated to cost nearly $5 million, but with Rochester allocating $1.4 million this year to begin the effort, the federal funding that Schumer has now secured will help support the remainder of the project.

Schumer wrote to USDA Secretary Vilsack personally in support of the project and pulled out all the stops to deliver this support for Rochester, including personally calling the USDA Secretary to advocate for the Rochester project. This funding is one of the final pieces of the puzzle to fully fund the project and jump start the cities initiative to create vibrant tree-filled neighborhoods Rochester has long deserved.

A copy of Schumer’s letter to the USDA appears below:

Dear Secretary Vilsack,

I write in support of the City of Rochester, NY’s application to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service (USFS) Urban and Community Forestry Program (UCF) to provide the critical funding needed to meet the City’s ambitious plan to plant 6,000 new trees by 2025.  The UCF Program received a historic infusion of funding through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the City hopes to leverage the funding from the IRA to correct the longstanding disparity in tree canopy coverage across Rochester neighborhoods so that all Rochester residents can benefit from the increased health and safety impacts associated with tree-rich communities.

In the 1800’s, Rochester was one of our nation’s first gardening and nursery industry epicenters. The City employed thousands to grow plants, trees, and produce seed in Rochester’s soil that were then exported to growing communities across the United States. Sadly, today despite that legacy, neighborhoods across Rochester – including many just a stone’s throw from those historical nurseries – now lack trees and the shade their canopies provide. Even more concerning, there is a significant disparity in tree canopy coverage based on race and class.

Currently in Rochester the disparity in tree canopy cover exceeds 30%, with the most tree-covered neighborhood having 49% tree canopy coverage and the neighborhood with the least tree coverage having only 18% coverage. The neighborhood with only 18% coverage is one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city, where nearly all residents are Black and Latino. The neighborhood with the most coverage at 49% is wealthier, whiter, and has fewer renters. This trend can be observed across the city.

Urban forests cool neighborhoods, improve psychological wellbeing, keep electricity costs down, have positive impacts on property values, and help residents avoid the severe health impacts associated with heat waves. Residents in the areas with the fewest trees have higher rates of physical and mental health issues, poverty, lower property values, higher rental rates, and suffer from temperatures as much as 12 degrees hotter than areas with higher concentrations of trees. The city’s plan to plant 6,000 new trees by 2025 seeks to rectify this disparity and bring all neighborhoods in the city up to the same level of tree cover.

According to the U.S Census Bureau Rochester has the second highest child poverty rate in the nation, with nearly half of all children in Rochester living in poverty. The increased funding for the Urban and Community Forestry Program was envisioned to benefit communities exactly like Rochester where trees plantings can bring generational change across a trees’ many-decades life to help reverse economic and environmental injustice.

The UCF funding will enable the City of Rochester to not only plant 6,000 trees but to take a step towards ending this inequity and bringing every neighborhood in the City up to 85% stocking rate.  I fully support this effort and ask that you look favorably on this application for Urban and Community Forestry Program funding.