Right now, people are eager for the warmth of the sun, but in a couple of months we’ll be seeking the relief of shade under a mature tree. The Urban Tree Alliance wants to make sure the entire city has the benefit of a healthy urban forest, and if you live in one of 14 Madison neighborhoods, that group is hoping to plant one or two trees in your yard — for free.
The Madison-based nonprofit, which makes money from providing tree care services, started the Madison Canopy Project a year ago. Its goal is to “plant trees in areas that weren’t being served by the tree care industry and to grow the canopy on private property,” says Evan Slocum, founder and executive director of the Urban Tree Alliance. It’s not just about providing shade; it’s about increasing the many benefits that trees provide: air purification, stormwater reduction, reduced heating bills and carbon dioxide absorption, Slocum notes.
Eighty to 90% of trees are located on private property, so urban forestry is shifting its focus there, Slocum says. The Alliance used remote sensing data to measure Madison’s forest canopy cover, and reached out to property owners of parcels with less than 15% tree cover. “We were basically cold-calling people and saying, ‘Hey, do you want a tree?’” Slocum says.
They decided it would be easier and more effective to target entire neighborhoods for the free trees. To select the neighborhoods, they looked at median income, average home value and percent of residents below the poverty line, along with canopy cover.
“There is a close tie between income and canopy cover. More wealthy areas have more trees,” says Patricia Lindquist Chakravorty, associate director with the Alliance.
The funds to provide these free trees come from a matching grant from the DNR, a few local sponsors and the proceeds of the organization’s fee-for-service work.
The Alliance provides a site visit for each tree it plants. Staff will evaluate the parcel and discuss options with the property owner for the best location and which tree would be best for the space. “The goal is to plant a tree that’s going to be there for as long as possible and grow to a large size,” Slocum says.
Evan Slocum (l.), executive director of the Urban Tree Alliance, and UTA volunteer Adityarup Chakravorty plant a Kentucky coffee tree in Bram's Addition as part of the Madison Canopy Project.
Many of the nearly two dozen species the group plants are names you probably haven’t heard of: Chinquapin oak, musclewood, American larch, sour gum.
Introducing people to these lesser-known species and to the value of species diversity are goals of the project. “If you look at the urban forest as a whole, there’s a relatively small number of species that are overplanted. For instance, maples make up approximately 30% of Madison’s urban forest,” says Chakravorty. Another heavily planted tree is ash. “Then when you have pests and diseases like the emerald ash borer coming through suddenly, you have thousands upon thousands of trees all dying at once,” Chakravorty says.
The group planted 200 trees last year and hopes to plant more than 300 more this year. Some of these will be on city or community-owned property.
When residents discovered the program, they also asked if they could plant them in neighborhood parks, so the Alliance began partnering with the parks department, Chakravorty says.
There’s also a “citizen forester” program for neighborhood residents to care for these trees in their vulnerable early years. “Every tree we’re putting in is adopted by a volunteer who’s committed to watering it for two years, which is a really big commitment,” Chakravorty says.
The Alliance also offers classes on pruning and other aspects of tree care for volunteers who want to hone their skills.
Volunteers are welcome to help with park plantings in May; upcoming events including classes are listed at urbantreealliance.org.
Residents of the following eligible neighborhoods in Madison and Fitchburg can request a free tree via the Urban Tree Alliance website or calling 608-556-5331: Allied Dunn’s Marsh, Berkley Oaks, Bram’s Addition, Burr Oaks, Capitol View, Carpenter-Ridgeway, Eken Park, Emerson East, Hawthorne, Jamestown, Leopold, Western Hills, Whitetail Ridge and Worthington Park.
If you’re not one of the lucky residents of those neighborhoods, but still want to get into the spirit of Arbor Day, don’t worry – the Urban Tree Alliance is happy to help you select and plant a tree. You’ll just need to pay for it.