Treesilience is growing in St. Louis, improving the well-being of neighborhoods through healthy trees.
The Nature Conservancy, Forest ReLeaf of Missouri and Davey Tree Expert Company were awarded a State Urban Forest Resilience grant from the National Association of State Foresters and a Landscape Scale Restoration grant from the USDA Forest Service that has supported the buildout of the program. These grants together have helped to establish the national tree health and youth green jobs initiative.
“We’re experiencing a great deal of canopy loss in St. Louis due to the emerald ash borer,” says Rebecca Weaver, TNC’s cities program manager. “Through public-private partnerships with conservationists, local governments, community organizations and the public health sector, this new initiative supports a youth green jobs program and conducts science-based, community-driven and equitable canopy restoration throughout St. Louis.”
Treesilience addresses dead, dying or hazardous trees on public lands in the City of St. Louis and on private lands of interested homeowners in north St. Louis County. The initiative includes a focus on ash trees susceptible to the emerald ash borer, which has caused millions of dollars in damage across Missouri since its discovery in the state in 2008. Trees are removed and replaced through local contracting, community-based replanting and stewardship education.
“A healthy urban tree canopy means better air quality for our residents, which reduces rates of asthma. It helps save money on heating and cooling bills. It reduces the heat island effect and makes being outdoors more pleasant in the summer. It makes our neighborhoods safer and more attractive,” says Chris Krehmeyer, president and CEO of Beyond Housing, a Treesilience project partner in St. Louis County. “All of these benefits are part of a comprehensive approach to strengthening our community.”
Weaver says the costs of tree removal are prohibitive for many homeowners, and standing dead trees could threaten homes and people as major weather events continue to increase due to climate change. Additionally, these trees stand in places where new, healthy trees could be planted.
“Our community trees provide us significant benefits, and we believe that everyone deserves access not only to trees and greenspaces but to healthy trees and green spaces," Rachel Holmes, TNC's urban forestry strategist, says. "Treesilience is a growing national initiative to level the planting field and eliminate the barriers to healthy tree canopy. We do this through mature tree pruning, removals and site preparation—especially in communities with lower canopy coverage.”
Treesilience launched in 2020 in Chicago and has spread to Orlando and St. Louis with more cities expected in the future. It officially kicked off in the St. Louis region in December 2021 with a tree removal and plantings in Pine Lawn. The initiative expanded into the City of St. Louis in October 2022 in partnership with the city’s Forestry Division with plans to take down more than 100 Ash trees, susceptible to the Emerald Ash Borer, on public lands and replace them with twice as many new trees.
In north St. Louis County, the initiative has built on work from Beyond Housing and their urban tree canopy analysis. It includes an outreach and prioritization process to determine focus areas for the program within the 24:1 Community—a group of nearly two dozen municipalities in the county that have joined together as one to improve their communities and their residents’ quality of life.
“Our Canopy Crew trains emerging conservation professionals to evaluate the health of standing ash trees to identify trees to be replaced and communities interested in stewarding replacement trees,” says Meridith Perkins, executive director of Forest ReLeaf of Missouri.
She says Treesilience helps support the Canopy Crew Program, which hires local youth to advance the project’s goals and increase green jobs training opportunities in the region.
Davey Tree Expert Company handles the tree removals, and stump grinding is done through local contractors from the community. As part of the work, Davey staff engages the Canopy Crew in career exposure activities during the removal and treatment process.
For every tree removed, the team will replant two trees through Forest ReLeaf of Missouri’s tree nursery and giveaway program. The Canopy Crew will continue to support the community throughout the tree planting process and afterward through the replacement trees’ establishment period.
Due to the statewide organizational reach of both TNC and Forest ReLeaf of Missouri, the partners hope this program can be replicated across the state.
“There are many communities throughout Missouri that stand to lose tree canopy and that suffer from inequitable access to tree canopy already,” Weaver says. “We hope the Treesilience pilot program inspires other communities to proactively pursue similar initiatives that enhance urban landscapes and provide learning opportunities for young people.”
The Treesilience initiative will continue to assess, remove and replant trees through 2023.
How to Participate in the Program
If you're a homeowner in North St. Louis County and would like more information on this program, please call or email for more information: (314) 533-5323 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Benefits to the Community
The effects of Treesilience are lasting, but they start paying off immediately. That was clear when the initiative launched in late 2021 with the removal of a tree from Dorothy Collins’ yard in the 24:1 Community of north St. Louis County. The large sweetgum tree (Liquidambar styraciflua) had a huge stress fracture, posing a threat to her house and safety.
Following the tree’s removal, Collins thanked the foresters and partners.
“I’m thankful for everyone here and I’m relieved to get rid of that tree. … I really am,” Collins said, adding that she is excited to watch her new trees grow.
A celebratory ceremony and tree planting was held in her backyard as two new black gum trees (Nyssa sylvatica) were planted in its place. Collins, along with Pine Lawn Mayor Terry Epps, Pine Lawn Alderwoman Bettie Lee and project partners, placed the trees, packed them in with mulch and named them.
Collins will receive support from the Canopy Crew for the new trees as they get established and begin to grow.
Removal of dead and dying trees is only one of the benefits that Treesilience provides. Many people who live in historically underserved communities in and around north St. Louis County and the City of St. Louis also suffer from higher rates of asthma and other respiratory illness due to poor air quality, as shown in the St. Louis EcoUrban Assessment.
“Studies have shown that respiratory health can be improved by the expansion of healthy tree cover in areas with higher air pollution,” Weaver says.
Thanks to the Treesilience program, Collins now has peace of mind for her and her family’s safety, and two new trees that will grow and help the community breathe easier, too.