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Cuyahoga County is once again offering grants to increase its tree cover

Various trees stand tall in the blue sky at the Cleveland Metroparks West Creek Reservation
Tim Harrison
Ideastream Public Media
Various trees stand tall in the blue sky at the Cleveland Metroparks West Creek Reservation

Cuyahoga County is once again accepting applications for projects focused on planting trees and improving tree canopy in the region.

Applications for the county’s fourth round of funding, offered through its Healthy Urban Tree Canopy Program, must include plans for tree planting efforts. Funds can also be used to facilitate planning or maintenance of current trees, Manager of Planning Initiatives for the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission Susan Infeld said.

“This grant program was designed to encourage the growth of a healthy urban tree canopy, recognizing that we’re an urban county that’s pretty much built out,” she said. “The grant offers funding to applicants … for planting and planning projects.”

Planning projects involve gathering information on where trees are lacking and where tree plantings should occur. This provides cities with a guidebook on how to improve tree canopy over a five or 10-year period, Infeld said.

Funds can also be used to help maintain current trees that may be in need of trimming or pruning.

About 6,750 trees were planted through the tree canopy program since it began in 2019, but it can take eight to 10 years for the tree to mature and contribute to tree canopy overall.

2019 data showed about 34% of the county covered by tree canopy. That translates to about 96 thousand acres, with another 371 thousand acres that could be covered by tree canopy by adding trees in vacant areas.

“That was a county-wide number,” Infeld said. “If you look at individual municipalities, some of them have a lower tree canopy percentage, some have higher, but nobody is at the 70 or 80% type of level.”

Tree canopy can decline for a number of reasons, from invasive pests and poor maintenance to the construction of homes and highways, Manager of Information and Research Services for the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission Dan Meaney said.

“Areas that are more densely developed tend to have less tree canopy in general,” Meaney said. “I guess you could say the building of those things caused a decline over decades.”

Cleveland’s tree canopy was below the county average at 18.9%, according to county data while surrounding areas like Lakewood, Parma and East Cleveland’s tree canopy ranged from 21% to 40%.

“You can see the city of Cleveland has been pretty hard hit,” Infeld said. “As far as some of the suburban communities, some of them would be lower income and some not. We’re kind of just not where we’d like to be county-wide.”

A lack of tree cover can lead to public health issues, Infeld said, and even high utility costs.

“Not everybody has air conditioning in our county, so it’s important to have trees so that every building can offer shade,” she said. “And for the owners of those buildings who are paying the utilities, it will help them save on their utility bills.”

The grant program aims to provide cities and municipalities with another source of funding to focus solely on tree planting and maintenance, Infeld said.

“For communities that might have had budgetary issues that didn’t allow them to plant or replace trees,” Infeld said, “the idea was that this funding would give them another source of revenue that wouldn’t hit their general fund [and] would allow them to plant trees.”

Applicants can apply electronically through June 8.

Zaria Johnson is a reporter/producer at Ideastream Public Media covering the environment.