MANCHESTER, N.H. — New Hampshire’s largest city plans to plant 500 new trees in disadvantaged neighborhoods as part of a new $2.2 million project.
The last time the city completed a tree inventory was in 1998, so information about the current state of its trees is lacking. The new project would update that information, as part of a five-year project using federal grant money from the United States Department of Agriculture.
Trees will be planted in parts of the city that are classified as disadvantaged by the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool. These areas are “overburdened and underserved,” according to the tool’s parameters.
One northwestern section of Manchester is in the 95th percentile for the share of people who have been told they have asthma. And it’s considered a low income neighborhood.
For those on the ground, the project will address disparities they’ve long observed. Arnold Mikolo is an environmental justice advocate with the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental advocacy group partnering with the city on the tree planting project.
He’s been speaking with residents to gather their feedback and concerns about environmental issues in the center city communities.
“One of the main things they said was, ‘This neighborhood is really hot,’” Mikolo said.
“It was obvious because when you go north of Bridge Street, it’s cooler, there’s more tree coverage and less use of AC,” he said.
He said the trees will help improve air quality, reduce heat, and provide green space, to help with overall well being. Mikolo will help organize a community advisory group with 10 to 15 residents of the relevant neighborhoods who will provide input on the project.
“I’m excited because I know how much it’s needed in that neighborhood,” he said.
In addition to planting new trees, the project will also pay for the maintenance of existing trees and take steps to strengthen them against extreme weather events. As a part of the project, the city will hire and train “tree ambassadors.”
The 1998 report highlighted a precarious situation for the city’s trees: Over half the trees in the Center City, West Side areas, and the business district weren’t expected to live more than 10 years. It called for the establishment of a long-term management program to help those trees survive.
And the report found that the city had lost 10,000 trees between 1989 and 1998.
Now the city estimates that there are between 4,500 to 6,000 trees in the disadvantaged neighborhoods. But there’s no current data about the health of those trees or the canopy.
The first phase of the new project is to gather that information, figure out the best places to plant new trees, and create a comprehensive plan.
Matthew Thorne, the climate adaptation program manager at the Nature Conservancy of NH, said this project is a great example of using trees to help cope with climate hazards. The Nature Conservancy of NH is also partnering with the city of Manchester on this project.
Trees can help the city manage extreme heat — trees provide shade that helps neighborhoods stay cool. Research shows that urban forests are 2.9 degrees cooler than areas without trees on average, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
They can also help with flooding, by minimizing the water flushing through the streets and overwhelming storm drains, Thorne said. Manchester was hard hit during torrential rains this summer, which caused flooding in hundreds of city residences.
Trees can help address concerns with drinking water. Many New Hampshire residents get tap water from the Merrimack River, and downstream communities in Massachusetts like Lawrence and Lowell are increasingly reliant on the river, according to Thorne.
“Trees can help absorb and filter stormwater before it hits the drains and gets dumped right into the Merrimack,” he said. “They’re a helpful tool in trying to clean up our water quality before it hits the tap.”
In 2009, the US Forest Service identified the Merrimack River as one of the watersheds most threatened by development pressures. And in 2020, the New Hampshire State Forest Action Plan found that in New England New Hampshire is second only to Rhode Island in percentage of lost tree cover in urban areas.
The action plan credited New Hampshire forests with removing 5,700 tons of air pollutants a year, worth over $15 million in health benefits, and it estimated that forests save the state $14.5 million in avoided energy use.