Thanks to two federal grants totaling $4.3 million, tree lovers hoping to expand Knoxville’s canopy – especially in neighborhoods needing it the most – have reason to celebrate.
The federal government has awarded $1.7 million to Trees Knoxville, a city nonprofit partner, to plant and maintain 7,500 trees along streets, in parks, at schools, in public housing communities, in historic African-American cemeteries and elsewhere.
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, was awarded another $2.6 million to increase tree canopy coverage, reduce stormwater runoff, mitigate extreme heat and bring ecosystem services to underserved communities in East Knoxville.
Both tree grants were funded through the federal Inflation Reduction Act, touted as the biggest climate investment in U.S. history.
Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon called the investments transformative. “We’re going to reverse the slow decline of tree canopy, and in fact prioritizing the greening up of areas that we know are the most in need of additional plantings.”
Jon Hathaway, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, will lead the university’s team, which also includes Jennifer First and Sharon Jean-Philippe.
While the trees are a major part of the plan, Hathaway said, the overall aim will help fulfill UT’s land-grant mission by focusing on several areas including workforce development.
The city’s comprehensive canopy assessment in 2021 documented more than 24,000 acres of tree cover in Knoxville – or 38 percent of the total land area. However, the canopy decreased by 732 acres over a decade, mostly on private property.
As a result, the city and Trees Knoxville developed an urban forest master plan with a goal of increasing tree cover to 40 percent. While the city generally plants up to 500 trees a year, the IRA funds to Trees Knoxville will pay for three times as many plantings.
The IRA grant to Trees Knoxville will fund the purchase, plantings and care for 1,000 trees on public property each year for five years, plus a giveaway of 500 trees a year for residential plantings. Trees Knoxville also will offer free public tree-care educational events.
Funds also are earmarked for invasive species control and for preservation of older trees on school grounds.
The city of Knoxville provided information for this story.