The state Department of Environmental Conservation has just announced the latest round of urban forestry grants, with a deadline of Dec. 5. The city of Schenectady has fared well with these grants before, thanks to that wonderful volunteer organization (started in 1991) ReTree Schenectady.
ReTree plans to apply again for one of the matching grants this year. And because the city has grown to become one of only nine in the state with a population of more than 65,000, according to the census, it will qualify for a bigger one than in the past, up to $50,000. The city should offer support for ReTree — if not with cash, as in the past, then with in-kind services.
The grant program recognizes the importance of trees in an urban environment, something that ReTree well knows. Not only are trees aesthetically pleasing, adding a touch of nature and beauty to a landscape that needs it, they provide many environmental benefits. Those include: absorbing heat from all that asphalt and concrete, filtering the air of pollutants, sequestering carbon, and preventing flooding by soaking up rainwater.
That’s why a growing number of cities want to plant large numbers of them, like New York City, which plans to add 1 million new trees by 2035, and Saratoga Springs, which recently performed a tree survey and is developing a tree master plan (things Schenectady already has done).
In recent years ReTree has focused on working with neighborhood organizations to plant trees in front of residences on the strip between sidewalk and street. Betsy Henry, a leader of the organization who will be writing the grant application, says it’s time for something different. That could be plantings on boulevards, islands, entrances to the city and other municipal property.
More ambitious, and likely to be funded at a high level, would be a green infrastructure plan for the city. Along with trees, green infrastructure includes such things as rooftop gardens, rainwater collection barrels and permeable parking lot surfaces to prevent flooding and the overwhelming of sewer systems after heavy storms. The latter has been a particular problem in Schenectady, which it signed a 2005 consent decree to solve. A green infrastructure plan would help.