116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Nationally, the tree cover in the United States is declining at about 175,000 acres per year. This contributes to climate change, desertification, soil erosion, flooding, water quality issues, and other problems that become catastrophic over time — and that time is now. Here in Iowa, and especially in Linn County, we are more acutely aware of the tree canopy as 65 percent of the local trees were leveled by the derecho in 2020.
With windchills plummeting, more snowy days on the horizon, and our faces burning from the cold on every walk to and from the car the last thing on our collective mind might be a nice shady tree. For one local organization, however, the wheels are already in motion for the work that will take place in a balmy, humid Iowa summer. Trees Forever, with a local office in Marion, is focused on restoration of the tree canopy within a footprint that spans Iowa and Illinois.
I sat down with Trees Forever President and CEO Kiley Miller who joined the organization last February to grill him about how the agency is addressing financial challenges while fighting urban deforestation, and what the future holds.
“Resources for environmental and conservation efforts are always going to be limited, and they are certainly limited here in the Midwest When we collaborate, with the DNR for instance, we are able to extend the reach of both organizations so powerfully. And also, one hopes, efforts are aligned — it’s not just financial capacity expansion, it’s creating a more focused effort to improve Iowa’s urban forest canopy. Our philosophy has been and remains collaborating with a lot of different entities.”
Miller described to me collaborations with the City of Cedar Rapids, the Department of Natural Resources, a carbon mitigation effort with blockchain mining organizations and other carbon-intensive industries, programs and partnerships in the Des Moines market, and several school districts.
The Growing Futures program brings together small groups of high school students to receive hands-on instruction in tree planting and maintenance while actively reforesting the communities where they live and learning about careers in forestry.
“We bring in outside speakers to teach everything from resume preparation to conflict resolution. We try to work with youth from communities we know are underserved.”
This focus on underserved community members is important — the Tree Equity Score project documents the phenomenon of more sparse tree canopies in under-resourced neighborhoods. This disparity impacts the chronic disease, anxiety and depression levels in addition to utility costs and taxes of those who live in areas with less tree cover, Although the Tree Equity Score in the greater Cedar Rapids area looks pretty good in general, how we approach reforestation following a catastrophic event like the derecho will have a big impact on neighborhoods less able to do the work of restoration without support from local municipalities and county intervention. By providing access to forestry skills and familiarity to youth experiencing barriers to the quality of life Iowa has long promised, Trees Forever is building sustainability and the agency of program participants to continue the work of leveling the playing field for their own neighborhoods in the future.
The ReLeaf Cedar Rapids project plan calls for the planting of over 40,000 trees in the next 10 years. To learn more about getting involved through donation or through volunteerism in Trees. Forever projects, visit www.treesforever.org.
Sofia DeMartino is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: email@example.com