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Forest Service Funds Urban Tree Projects in California

Local young people prepare the ground for tree plantings at the Urban Releaf ceremony in Oakland, Calif., on Aug. 20.

Local young people prepare the ground for tree plantings at the Urban Releaf ceremony in Oakland, Calif., on Aug. 20.

Urban forests are a vital part of our nation’s cities – they clean the air we breathe, capture pollution and stormwater and beautify our neighborhoods. Urban trees save cities millions of dollars in energy costs every year just from shade alone. U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell has called urban trees “the hardest working trees in America.”

Tidwell underscored that statement during a recent visit Oakland, Calif. to view Urban Releaf’s greening and community-building efforts. He presented Kemba Shakur, executive director, a check for $181,000 to support education and demonstrations projects, as well as tree planting and maintenance throughout the Oakland area.

At the presentation, Tidwell noted that 94 percent of all Californians live in urban areas.

“There’s no question about the benefits of having urban forests; the clean air, the clean water, the wildlife habitat that it creates, the energy savings that occur from the shade that’s provided from our trees,” he said. “But the other key part about it is the quality of life that’s provided by having green areas in our communities and the jobs that come with urban forestry.”

Shakur founded Urban Releaf 14 years ago and has planted an estimated 15,000 trees in low-income East Bay communities and provided employment opportunities for at-risk youth and unemployed adults. She has received a People Magazine Hero Award 2012 as well as several other national and local awards.

“I think Kemba’s passion is planting trees, restoring her neighborhood and trying to help her community all at the same time,” said Sandy Macias, urban and community forestry program manager. “That’s where she draws her strength and her energy.”

Speakers for the ceremony included Tidwell, Regional Forester Randy Moore, CALFIRE Director Ken Pimlott, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan and Macias.  A tree planting ceremony took place immediately following the speakers.

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