Countywide

County seeks grant funds to establish tree planting program for vulnerable communities

Some trees line Leesburg Pike (Route 7) in Idylwood (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

In an effort to reduce heat islands in vulnerable communities, the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services has applied for millions of dollars in grant funding to establish a street tree planting program.

The county will use its Vulnerability Index to identify communities in need of the program, according to county staff.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the department’s request on Tuesday (June 6) to apply for a $11.5 million Inflation Reduction Act Urban and Community Forestry (UCF) grant from the U.S. Forest Service.

“The grant period is five years from the award date which is anticipated to be October 2023,” the board meeting package said.

Department of Public Works and Environmental Services spokesperson (DPWES) Sharon North told FFXnow the department is proposing to plant 1,000 trees over a five-year period. Although the county is looking at vulnerable communities, she said “no decision on the grant recipients will be made until October.”

The Forest Service announced the funding opportunity back in April. The UCF program received $1.5 billion under the Inflation Reduction Act to support urban tree planting and forest planning and management in at-risk communities.

“The Resilient Fairfax Plan notes that 91 percent of vulnerable households are in areas identified as having a significantly high urban heat island effect and that vulnerable populations are more likely to be impacted by extreme heat,” the package said.

Factors considered by the county’s vulnerability index include household income, education, English proficiency, health insurance and the percentage of the population that owns a home or vehicle.

If the county is awarded the funds, the program will also promote tree planting through partnerships with the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Fairfax County Park Authority, Fairfax County Public Schools, and nonprofit organizations.

The county also identifies specific activities that will receive the funding:

  1. identifying areas in the county that are heat vulnerable low tree canopy and/or areas where green infrastructure would provide additional community and resilience benefits
  2. planting and maintaining up to 5,000 native and/or climate-resilient street trees over five years in neighborhoods and within the right-of-way and on public property
  3. educating and engaging the public on the benefits of green spaces and trees
  4. expansion of a green workforce to maintain existing and new street trees.

The county launched a pilot program in 2021 that provides free trees to residents of areas with minimal tree canopy coverage. The program initially focused on the Richmond Highway corridor but was expected to shift to Bailey’s Crossroads this year.