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SPECIAL REPORT: State bill could help fund more trees in underserved communities

CENTRAL COAST, Calif. (KION) A new state senate bill aims to bring more trees to those lower-income communities in California that cannot afford it.

Cal Fire says the benefits of having more urban forestry are many, including improving air quality and cooling the environment for rural areas.

“The air’s kinda dry. Having more trees being in Greenfield could mean more jobs could open too,” said Alejandro Ochoa, a Greenfield resident.

"Every dollar that helps plant trees today creates a place for a kid to climb, put a swing or to enjoy some much needed shade and clean air in the future," said State Senator Anna Caballero.

Caballero introduced SB 347, which will help fund and expand Cal Fire's Urban and Community Forestry Program.

Ca Fire wants to put more trees in communities who do not have very many. One reason: it will help reduce fire risk. Cal Fire says if you have a green and healthy tree canopy that is well-watered or requires little water, the fuel moisture is sufficient to where it will not ignite easily if there is a fire.

“Trees also reduce temperatures. We’re seeing an increase in temperatures due to climate change and as a result, the more trees there are in urban areas, the lower the temperatures are. They help reduce what we call the “heat island effect,”" said Henry Herrera, an urban forester with Cal Fire.

Cal Fire says that will result in healthier communities, especially lower-income and underserved areas where it is more challenging to plant, grow and maintain trees.

“Those are the communities in highest need of trees and where the projects that we fund would have the greatest positive impact on the residents of those areas,” said Herrera.

"These communities struggle to fund and maintain forest service programs. Because of this they suffer from greater urban island effects and worse air pollution," said Caballero.

Trees help clean the air, reduce greenhouse gases, remove carbon dioxide and clean the water. They also help reduce erosion, according to Cal Fire. The agency also says there are studies that show areas with more green spaces and trees have less crime.

“People are less stressed, they are less angry, mentally they feel better and overall, their health is better," said Herrera.

Trees within the program must meet certain requirements: it has to be a tree that removes the most amount of greenhouse gases as possible, one that is drought-tolerant and meant to survive in dry climates.

Examples include Australian Willows and Brisbane Boxes.

The Urban and Community Forestry Program has been around for decades. SB 347 has already passed the state senate, but awaits approval in the house. If signed by the governor, it will potentially provide guaranteed annual funding.

Local governments and non-profits are able to apply and submit a project proposal to Cal Fire to get more trees to their communities.

“More trees being here would just make Greenfield pop out more,” said Ochoa.

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Josh Kristianto

Josh Kristianto is a weekend anchor and multi-media journalist at KION News Channel 5/46.

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