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Finding ways to do better

October 6, 2020

Our mission as an education-based nonprofit is to grow thriving communities through stewardship of our urban forest. We have been dedicated to this cause for 38 years because we deeply value the environmental and social benefits that trees provide. This region has a long history of investing in our trees, the result of which is a world-renowned tree canopy. Still, not every neighborhood is shaded by this precious resource. For example, the tree-lined streets of Curtis Park are more walkable, have lower temperatures, and have better air quality than neighborhoods with sparse greenery that are only a few miles away in South Oak Park. The legacy of racist housing policies and disinvestment of public funds has led to our most racially diverse and economically disadvantaged neighborhoods having a fraction of the tree canopy that predominantly white and affluent neighborhoods enjoy.

As a regional voice for the trees, the Sacramento Tree Foundation intends to increase its efforts to address this canopy inequity by actively breaking down the barriers that created this situation in the past and perpetuate it today. We also accept responsibility for the ways that we have unintentionally contributed to this inequity, and we vow to devote significant resources to reversing this situation.

For the past five years, we have challenged ourselves to focus on equity in all of our work. But this year, many Sacramentans have been impacted by COVID-19, the economic recession, racial injustice, and climate change-driven wildfires. These calamities have increased the urgency of working toward environmental justice so everyone has access to the health and economic benefits of a thriving urban forest.

We want to share with you where we are and where we hope to go in making Sacramento the City of Trees for every neighborhood.

We envision an urban tree canopy that benefits our entire region and every neighborhood, especially those that have been historically underserved and under-canopied. We have grown the programs we offer and amended our internal practices to drive our work deeper towards this goal. Here are some ways that we are beginning to incorporate social equity into our work:

  • We reoriented our NeighborWoods Program to prioritize supporting communities that are most under-canopied and that we have historically worked with the least: North and South Sacramento, Arden-Arcade, Foothill Farms, North Highlands and Rancho Cordova. We have transitioned from leading the work ourselves to providing resources and funding to help community members carry out their visions for the tree canopy in their own neighborhoods. Listening to the needs of these communities has resulted in us providing services such as free stump removal in Rancho Cordova and a mini-grant program in South Sacramento.
  • Our Sacramento Shade partnership with SMUD—which distributes over 10,000 trees a year to homes across the region—has historically been requested by community members in neighborhoods that already have substantial tree canopy. Today, we deliberately reach out to residents and businesses in under-canopied communities to ensure that they, too, can take advantage of this free program.
  • Although we provide services to all communities in the region, we have shifted our resources to offer most of our volunteer events, staff-supported plantings, workshops, and trainings in under-canopied neighborhoods.

These steps are a starting point, but we recognize that we need to take additional steps to move our equity and social justice agenda forward:

  • We seek greater diversity in our board, staff, and organizational leadership. We have begun to change our recruiting and hiring practices to promote openings to more diverse audiences, eliminate barriers to application, and create a more inclusive environment where all feel welcome and valued.
  • While we do offer some services and materials in several languages, we intend to translate our website and other materials and hire more multilingual staff to better serve the needs of our many language communities. Everyone should feel welcome when participating in our programs.
  • The Mayors’ Commission on Climate Change aims to increase tree canopy to 35% in all neighborhoods by 2045. We need to act immediately to achieve this mandate, and we need to start in under-canopied areas first.
  • Recognizing that many communities we seek to support often have priorities more pressing than trees, we aim to be a stronger partner with organizations providing direct services such as workforce development, social services, and housing.

Change is necessary, and there are many opportunities on the horizon that can create a more just and equitable Sacramento. To make this happen, we need your guidance. We would love your feedback on how we at the Tree Foundation can do better to make our region the City of Trees for everyone.

Please share your thoughts or questions with Rachel Patten, NeighborWoods Program Manager, at (916) 974-4323 or rachelp@sactree.com.