California Forum

Urban neighborhoods need trees for city health and safety. Help us plant more in Sacramento

You can help protect the city’s beloved canopy: The Sacramento Tree Foundation and The Sacramento Bee are partnering through the end of October on a campaign to ensure the long-term health of our tree canopy.

Through this partnership, your generous donation to the Tree Foundation makes you eligible for The Bee’s best subscription deal ever — the first three months of a new digital subscription are free. To subscribe today and support The Bee’s effort to preserve the tree canopy, go to

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When you think of Sacramento, what stands out as iconic? Is it the rivers? Maybe the Tower Bridge, Old Sacramento or our sports teams? For myself and many others, it’s our trees. Regardless of the slogan on the Freeport water tower (“America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital,” and no longer “City of Trees”), Sacramento still has one of the most acclaimed urban forests in the world. Long-time residents and newcomers alike marvel at the tree-lined streets that define neighborhoods like midtown, East Sacramento and Land Park.

Unlike other cities that rose up among established forests, this region used to be an expanse of grassy plains with native trees only shading our waterways. Gold Rush settlers quickly destroyed these riparian forests, leaving a barren landscape. It didn’t take long before unbearably hot summers and public health crises spurred a tree planting movement. Walking around this city today, nearly every tree you see was planted by someone who recognized the need for the shade and beauty they provide.

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Trees have always been critical in making this region livable. With today’s rising temperatures, we grow even more dependent on our urban forest to shelter us from the effects of climate change. But some Sacramentans are more vulnerable to these effects than others.

In just one example, extreme heat kills more people in the U.S. than any other extreme weather event, and low-income neighborhoods tend to be some of the hottest places in urban areas. They also tend to have the least amount of trees.

Wanting to explore the link between a healthy urban forest and thriving communities, the Sacramento Tree Foundation commissioned a scientific study that compared local health data with tree canopy maps. Like other communities across the country, we found large disparities in canopy coverage, with low-income neighborhoods having up to 10 times less canopy than affluent neighborhoods.


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The researchers found that living in neighborhoods with trees is a significant factor in personal health. Residents of neighborhoods with more trees had lower body mass index, obesity rates and likelihood of asthma, while also reporting improved levels of social cohesion, mental health and overall health.

These findings suggest a practical prescription: plant more trees and steward our mature canopy. At the Tree Foundation, we have turned our full attention to these tree deserts so all Sacramentans can reap the benefits of a well-canopied neighborhood. In Sacramento County and its seven cities, we estimate the immediate need to plant 200,000 front yard and street trees in low-income neighborhoods.

You can be a part of this solution. We invite you to join us by signing up for free trees to plant on your own property through our partnership with SMUD, volunteering at a planting in your community or making a gift to support this work to address the challenge of neighborhood tree disparity.

Ray Tretheway is the executive director of the Sacramento Tree Foundation.

This column is part of The Sacramento Bee’s Tipping Point project on the city’s changing urban forest.

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