Chicago has been losing an ally in the fight against global warming: trees.
The City Council has unanimously approved an ordinance to create an Urban Forestry Advisory Board — charged with strategically caring for Chicago's urban tree canopy.
Daniella Pereira, vice president of community conservation at Openlands, said this new board is a crucial step in managing climate change, infrastructure, and the benefits the city receives from trees.
“We’re more aligned with a desert city than we are with a grassland city, which should have at least a minimum canopy of 20%,” Pereira said. “[We’re] really empowering this board to take on important community policy decisions, utilizing the citizen advisors, forestry experts and all the administrators from the city’s agencies.”
Currently, the city’s tree canopy cover is at 16%, a 3 percentage point decrease since 2010, according to a 2020 census of Chicago’s trees led by the Morton Arboretum.
Pereira hopes the new advisory board will find policy solutions and “the best practices on working together” for the same mission.
The Chicago Department of Public Health, a collaborator in the Chicago Region Trees Initiative, is tackling the question: How can we bring public health into the ongoing tree equity work in the community?
“We’re very supportive of the new board and we want to be able to assist in any way that accomplishes their mission,” said Raed Mansour, director for the office of innovation at the Chicago Department of Public Health. “There's a natural intersection with health equity and tree equity and that’s where we started the conversation.”
According to Pereira, there is currently a one-to-one tree replacement effort in Chicago.
“If you take down a tree and replace it with a 2-inch caliper tree, that’s not going to give us those ecosystem services or those trees that the tree that has been removed leaves us with,” Pereira said. Rather a more effective strategy will be “coming up with a better methodology around, ‘how many trees do we need to plant when we’re removing healthy live trees?’” she said. “Trees are one of the only appreciating assets that we have in our city.”