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

Schumer Bolstered Urban Forest Programs With Historic Funding In The Inflation Reduction Act – The Largest Investment In Fighting Climate Change Ever – To Help Cities Like Rochester Finally Add More Green Space; And He Will Reveal His Push To Secure The Millions Needed For Rochester To Add The Thousands Of New Trees The City Desperately Needs

Schumer: It Is Time For The Feds To Dig In And Help Plant The Seed For A More Equitable — And A Shadier And Cooler — Future For All Of Rochester

Standing in Upper Falls, a neighborhood with some of lowest tree cover in Rochester, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer launched a major new push to help Rochester become one of the first in the nation to tap the historic funding provided for USDA’s Urban and Community Forestry Program to plant over 6,000 new trees across the city.

Schumer explained that the lack of green space and unbalanced tree coverage across neighborhoods in Rochester has worsened systemic economic and health inequalities, and said this was especially a concern in the face of rising global temperatures, but now thanks to the historic increases he secured in the Inflation Reduction Act, Rochester has a unique opportunity to finally secure the funding it has needed to get to the root cause of this problem and greatly expand the city’s tree coverage. 

"For too long Rochester neighborhoods have been left out of the shade, stuck in concrete deserts with barely a tree or greenspace in sight. No matter where you live, people deserve to breathe clean air and have access to the health and economic benefits that come with living in a lush tree-rich community," said Senator Schumer. "Trees are beautiful; they help air quality; they boost quality of life; and they provide vital shade in sweltering hot cities. That is why I am proud to support Rochester's ambitious plan to plant 6,000 new trees by 2025 and why I am digging in to deliver the federal funding to help this vision for a greener, healthier, and more equitable Rochester finally take root and blossom.”

“Rochester has a long love affair with its urban forest,” said Rochester Mayor Malik D. Evans. “Since establishing our Parks Commission in 1894, we’ve understood how important trees are to a healthy and vibrant infrastructure. They provide a myriad of environmental, social, economic and aesthetic benefits. Our ambitious Tree Expansion and Beautification Program is designed to eliminate discrepancies in the current locations of street trees across Rochester so that everyone can share in the benefits that trees offer. I’d like to thank Senator Schumer for urging funding for our plan to plant 6000 new trees by 2025.”

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, lower mental health, along with other poor health outcomes, which are on top of negative economic impacts like decreased property values.

For years, Rochester has struggled to add trees and greenspace, 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.

The Inflation Reduction Act includes $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. Rochester Mayor Malik Evans has now put together a comprehensive Tree Expansion and Beautification Program plan 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, with Rochester allocating $1.4 million this year to begin the effort, and Schumer said he is pushing for the feds to support the remainder of the project with funding through the increases he secured in the IRA. Additionally, Schumer promised to fight tooth and nail to protect the funding in this program so it can be used as intended in Rochester and other places across the country to make communities healthier and safer.

Schumer has written to USDA Secretary Vilsack personally in support of the project, with applications for the funding being submitted soon and will be pulling out all the stops to try to deliver this support for Rochester. Schumer said this would be the final piece of the puzzle to fully fund the project and breathe new life to create the vibrant tree filled neighborhoods Rochester has long deserved.


A copy of Schumer’s recent 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.