New York City’s five borough presidents last month held a joint press conference to appeal to Mayor Eric Adams with a lofty proposal: Let's plant a million trees across the city by the end of the decade.

The effort would build on the city’s previous Million Trees initiative, which ended in 2015 under Mayor Bill de Blasio. Other cities — including Los Angeles, Denver, Philadelphia, and Sacramento, California — have their own tree-planting initiatives. Trees are widely touted as having essential environmental benefits: carbon sequestration, natural cooling for urban heat islands, and stormwater absorption, on top of well-studied mental health benefits. But urbanization has eaten away at the country’s canopy. A 2018 U.S. Forest Service study found that 36 million trees were lost each year between 2009 and 2014, a 1% drop in trees nationally.

“It seems like trees are universally liked,” Brooklyn borough president Antonio Reynoso told the New York Times.

Experts warn, however, that despite all the benefits trees provide, poorly managed tree programs don’t do much good.

“It’s so important to not just go in and plant trees and impose policies,” said Christine Carmichael, founder of Fair Forests Consulting. “In the long term, that can damage the trees, the environment, and the relationships with the very communities you are trying to help.”

In 2019, as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Vermont, Carmichael published an influential study examining why roughly 25% of eligible Detroit residents opted out of a city-sponsored effort to plant trees on their streets as part of a city-sponsored program. Her research found that many community members didn’t trust the city to maintain the trees, fearing they'd be left with the responsibility to water, rake leaves and clear dead branches.

Carmichael has used her consulting firm to work with cities on how to best engage historically disadvantaged and under-resourced communities in tree-planting initiatives. Working with residents, she said, can avoid some of the Detroit program's pitfalls while also ensuring that trees are allocated where they're needed most.

Read the full article about tree planting by Jason Plautz at Smart Cities Dive.