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'Historic' federal funding issued to help plant trees in CT's cities, combat climate change

A rainbow appears behind a line of trees as storm clouds pass over the East Hartford area Monday, October 17, 2023.
Mark Mirko
Connecticut Public
A rainbow appears behind a line of trees as storm clouds pass over the East Hartford area Monday, October 17, 2023.

Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has launched a $2 million Urban Forest Equity Grant program funded by the Inflation Reduction Act to improve the tree canopy in disadvantaged communities.

New England is warming faster than the average global temperature increase, according to one Massachusetts study, and the Environmental Protection Agency says Connecticut warmed twice as much as the rest of the continental U.S during the 1900s.

These increasing temperatures are only made more severe in Connecticut’s cities due to the urban heat island effect. Daytime temperatures in cities can be up to 7 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than more rural areas because man-made structures absorb and re-emit heat more than natural heat sinks, like trees.

"Trees do a great job of keeping those elevated temperatures a little bit cooler and mitigating those temperatures,” said Danica Doroski, the state’s Urban Forestry coordinator. “I've always seen the tremendous role [trees] play in community building and community cohesion.”

A 2021 study from The Nature Conservancy found that low-income blocks in some Northeast cities have 30% less tree cover. The Northeast also had the greatest differences in summer-surface temperatures between low-and-high-income blocks.

This funding for urban trees is historic and unprecedented, Dorski says. Any local government, federally recognized tribe and nonprofit organization can apply for a grant worth up to $200,000.

The funding can be used for “anything related to urban forestry,” Doroski says, and is not limited to just planting new trees. But new trees can can play an important role in absorbing stormwater and pollutants.

“We would love to see projects for stewardship and maintenance and workforce training or workforce development opportunities,” Doroski said.

DEEP’s Urban and Community Forestry staff is offering virtual biweekly office hours to help groups develop local plans and apply for grants.

“I think one of the biggest barriers to a grant program like this is just coming up with what kind of projects you want to do,” Doroski said.

Details about the Zoom office hours can be found here.

Applications are due on Wednesday, April 17, 2024.

Jennifer Ahrens is a producer for Morning Edition. She spent 20+ years producing TV shows for CNN and ESPN. She joined Connecticut Public Media because it lets her report on her two passions, nature and animals.