The Morton Arboretum awarded historic $15 million in federal IRA funds to improve urban forests in underserved Illinois communities

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Press release

LISLE, Ill. (September 14, 2023) — The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Ill., announced it will receive $15 million in federal funding from the U.S. Forest Service through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) to expand and improve the tree canopy in disadvantaged communities throughout Illinois. The funding is part of a historic $1 billion investment to boost the nation’s urban tree cover in communities nationwide. The federal grant funding the Arboretum will receive is the largest award in Illinois, the largest award to a public garden in the country and a historic sum for the nonprofit tree-focused organization.

The U.S. Forest Service, through funding from the IRA, selected 385 grant proposals from entities that are working to increase equitable access to urban trees and green spaces, and the benefits they provide. All of the funding will flow to disadvantaged communities in all 50 states, two U.S. territories, three U.S. affiliated Pacific islands and in several tribal communities.

The Arboretum’s Chicago Region Trees Initiative (CRTI) will award sub-grants exclusively to communities and organizations supporting underserved populations to provide more equitable access to trees and bolster resilience to climate change, including urban, rural and tribal areas of the state. CRTI is an Arboretum-led coalition of more than 200 partner organizations working together to improve Chicago’s regional forest for nearly 10 years.

“This is significant recognition from the U.S. Forest Service of The Morton Arboretum’s expertise and proven ability to partner with organizations and manage sub-grant funding for community forestry projects,” said Arboretum President and CEO Jill Koski. The sub-grants will not have a matching funds requirement, which Koski explained eliminates a barrier to grant funding for underserved communities that often do not have the capacity, training or resources to develop an urban forestry program. An estimated 450 Illinois communities meet the federal Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool guidelines as disadvantaged or underserved.

Lydia Scott, CRTI director and a nationally-recognized urban forestry expert, said that sub-grants will provide opportunities for a wide range of positive impacts in the funded communities. These include workforce development, improved tree preservation and management, increased tree planting, expanded community engagement and more access to professional expertise, resulting in improved quality of life and canopy resilience to climate change, pests, storms and extreme heat events.

“Numerous scientific studies have proven the benefits of a mature tree canopy, including healthier and more resilient people and communities,” Scott noted. “Those who live in areas with low tree canopy are disproportionately impacted by poor air quality, flooding, higher temperatures and associated health challenges. All of these are issues that trees help to address,” she said, emphasizing the criticality of this funding.

The Chicago Region Trees Initiative is the largest program of its kind in the United States. It was launched in 2014 to connect organizations across the seven-county Chicago area to work together to improve the health, diversity and equitable distribution of the regional forest, including public and private landowners and managers. Among its services are urban forestry training programs, working with volunteers to plant thousands of trees each year and a carbon credit program for corporations to plant and preserve trees at a large scale. CRTI planted 3,000 trees in 68 communities during the Arboretum’s yearlong Centennial Tree Planting Initiative that launched in spring 2022.

“This funding is a step toward improving the lives of people who have not had the same advantages as others,” Koski said. “While it’s an important start, it will be years before those communities catch up to areas with already mature trees, which makes this funding all the more essential now, as trees will deliver benefits for generations to come.”

Organizations will be invited to apply for funding through CRTI in a competitive sub-grant application process. Grant applications are expected to be posted on the CRTI website in late 2023.