By Michaela Kiel Brooklyn Daily Eagle
In a move applauded by environmentalists and sustainability advocates, the New York City Council passed on Thursday a groundbreaking bill aimed at expanding its current tree canopy cover from 22% to an ambitious 30%.
The legislation, officially titled, “An Urban Forest Plan,” not only sets forth an ambitious goal for expanding tree canopy coverage but also mandates the creation of a comprehensive urban forest master plan. This master plan, to be submitted to the City by July 31, 2024, will play a pivotal role in identifying the identifying the causes of urban forest loss and establishing concrete goals to expand and safeguard New York City’s vital urban forest.
The term “urban forest” encompasses all trees and all shade-producing vegetation within the city, including those not under the direct jurisdiction of the commissioner, as outlined in the bill.
The 7 million trees in New York City’s urban forest, however, are held on public and private lands. Governed by multiple agencies, including the Department of Environmental Protection, New York Housing Authority, Department of Parks and Recreation, and Department of Transportation, among others – Int. 1065 seeks to unite these disparate groups under comprehensive master plan.
A spokesperson for the Department of Parks underscored the importance of this legislation stating, “As the City deals with the effects of climate change and severe weather, it’s more important than ever to grow our urban forest to absorb stormwater, help clean our air, and provide essential shade for our neighborhoods.”
The NYC Environmental Justice Alliance (NYC- EJA), a prominent advocacy group, played a pivotal role in advocating for the passage of Intro. 1065. They stressed the equitable distribution of the tree canopy, emphasizing that neighborhoods with more trees and parks experience a range of downstream benefits.
According to an arborist with the NYC Parks Department, “Urban forests provide a vast swarth of benefits like reducing heat island effect, pollution, improve mental health, and provide valuable habitats.”
The heat island effect, where urban environments absorb and re-mit the sun’s heat, results in urban areas experiencing higher daytime temperatures than natural landscapes. According to the EPA, this can result in urban areas experiencing daytime temperatures 1-7 degrees higher than if the area was a natural landscape. Vulnerable communities, often in areas with fewer trees, bear the brunt of this phenomenon.
NYC-EJA expressed their support for 1065, stating, “It’s been a really important piece of legislation for us because we want to make sure that we are centering equity when we talk about the urban forest. We want to ensure that neighbors who haven’t been prioritized are given the attention they deserve, focusing on communities that need this infrastructure the most.”
Int. 1065 was submitted to the Council, along with Int. 1066 in June by the NYC Urban Task Force coalition (now renamed Forest for All NYC ). Int 1066, the first bill to be passed, amends Local Law 84, from 2013 establishing a charter for long-term sustainability and resiliency planning. It explicitly includes the “role of trees, tree canopy, and vegetation” in the implementation of sustainability and resiliency programs or policies. Together, these two bills position trees at the forefront of New York City’s fight against climate change, making a significant step to a more sustainable and resilient future.
Forest for All NYC, a coalition that advocated for these two bills also released the NYC Urban Forest Agenda, a document containing research and strategies that could inform the master urban forest plan. The Agenda, written with the input of over 40 groups, outlines a plan to achieve 30% canopy coverage, management strategies to maintain the forest, as well as research on the importance of the urban forest.