116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS - A Linn County program aims to break residents' barriers to replanting trees lost in the Aug. 10 derecho.
The Tree Equity program will provide hundreds of free trees to Linn County residents on private residences this spring as the city and the rest of Linn County undergo a massive multiyear replanting effort to replenish the diminished tree canopy. The derecho's hurricane-force winds downed about 70 percent of Cedar Rapids' tree canopy, and about 40 percent to 60 percent of the canopy in Linn County.
'The Tree Equity program is really just designed to make sure that we're more equitably planting as we're replanting Cedar Rapids and Linn County,” said Tamara Marcus, Linn County Sustainability Program manager.
Such barriers could be financial, for people who may struggle to afford trees, or a physical barrier preventing them from actually replanting a tree. Housing status may be another barrier, Marcus said, because renters face additional challenges to replanting compared with homeowners.
This program is one step toward fulfilling local officials' promise of an equitable replanting process in the Cedar Rapids area.
Work is underway to draft the ReLeaf Cedar Rapids plan that will guide long-term planning on public and private property. Leaders from the city and nonprofit Trees Forever have said equity will be a key part of that plan to ensure all in the community enjoy the benefits trees have to offer, such as improved mental health and air quality.
Funding for the trees comes from the Planting Forward initiative started by Clark McLeod and Monarch Research Project. The trees to be planted are all native to Iowa, and many will be oak species. Those support more than 534 moth and butterfly species, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
Planting starts in April
Marcus said homeowners and volunteers will plant at least 750 trees across private properties in Linn County starting the second week of April. The team is trying to source more trees and hopes to replant up to 1,500 this spring.
Jason Snell, co-leader of the local chapter of the nonprofit Sunrise Movement, which is one of the partner organizations, said a perk of this program is people can opt in. He said he has experienced replantings where homeowners are confused when they see volunteers or municipal workers planting in the stretch of right of way in front of their house, but under this program, people already have signed on to have a tree in their yard.
‘Sense of ownership'
Education on native species, tree planting and care will be key to the program as well so people have the tools to help the trees grow.
'The goal is that the trees are around in 20 years, 30 years, 100 years, 150 years, and that won't happen if we just dropped off trees and plant them wherever and people don't have a sense of ownership,” Snell said.
To help instill a sense of ownership and motivate people to continually care for the trees, Snell said the team will draw up 'birth certificates” so people can name them. He hopes this will remind people, 'These are my trees and I'm really happy to have them here,” and boost the success rate of trees planted under the program.
Although the initial allotment of trees already is claimed, people still may use a Google Form to sign up for trees by leaving their name, contact information and address of intended planting site. There are slots on the form for additional information for those hoping to plant on a rental property and might need assistance getting permission from their landlord.
It also asks whether you would need assistance planting the tree and water it weekly once planted.
Of the 487 responses to the form as of Friday afternoon, Snell said 95 percent own their property and 5 percent are renters. Sixty-six percent of people said they do not need help planting tree, but for those who do need help, the team will organize volunteer groups to replant across the community.
To volunteer to help replanting, people may complete a form online.
Snell said keeping the form open provides data for the group to give to a funder or grant program showing a clear need for more trees, and also helps inform the team of the needs and barriers to replanting in the community.
People eager to replant
Initially, Snell said, he was concerned people would be hesitant to replant if, for example, a tree posed a problem after the storm. He worried that may be the case for people whose homes were hit by a tree, and especially if their insurance policy did not cover all of the losses.
'I'm excited that so many people are eager to replant and ... that the value outweighs what they perceive as the risk of replanting,” Snell said.
With 11 partnering organizations, Marcus said it's cool to see such a community-driven effort come together and shows that 'if we all work together toward an end goal, it actually can happen.”
Partner organizations include: Iowa Big, The Academy for Scholastic and Personal Success, Leaders Believers and Achievers, Marion Alliance for Racial Equity, Young Parents Network, Metro High School, Cedar River Academy, McKinley STEAM Academy, Sunrise Community Action Fund, Matthew 25 and the Wellington Heights Tree Equity Committee.
It is a powerful act of unity when neighbors help neighbors replant trees, Snell said.
'It's hard to symbolically dislike someone because of their political leanings if I'm planting a tree with them,” Snell said. I think a lot of people regardless of belief systems want to see Cedar Rapids be beautiful.”
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