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Plan for Comprehensive Reforestation of New Orleans Introduced by Local Coalition

NEW ORLEANS — On Friday, January 20, 2023, the New Orleans Reforestation Plan will be released. The Plan’s partners and champions will gather at 10:30 am for a press conference at the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans’ Green Infrastructure Project on Bayou St. John.

Local nonprofit organization, Sustaining Our Urban Landscape (SOUL), coordinated the Plan’s creation over the past two and a half years. The report reflects the work and extensive input by a dedicated coalition of local government agencies, not-for-profits, citizens, neighborhood associations, academics, urban planners, landscape architects, and other professionals. The document provides a comprehensive vision and detailed plan for the restoration of our City’s urban forest. The overall project was funded by JPMorgan Chase, with completion funds contributed by the Greater New Orleans Foundation, who is committed to advancing the Plan. “Urban trees are key to equitably addressing the impacts of climate change in New Orleans – from reducing stormwater flooding from increasingly intense storms to literally cooling down our hottest neighborhoods,” said Andy Kopplin, President and CEO of the Greater New Orleans Foundation. “The Greater New Orleans Foundation is proud to be part of developing this Comprehensive Reforestation Plan, and we look forward to working with the City of New Orleans, SOUL, and many others to bring back the urban forest of New Orleans.” 

Informed by satellite data and computer mapping, the report finds that the current state of our urban forest is concerning. Over 200,000 trees were lost due to Hurricane Katrina. Despite valiant efforts by numerous groups, the canopy still has not recovered. Our trees canopy less than 20% of the City, compared with 63% of Charleston, 47% of Nashville, and 44% of Savannah. Not surprisingly, New Orleans is ranked #1 in terms of the worst heat islands in the US – a dangerous phenomenon when we expect a future with 35 additional days of temperatures over 94 degrees. The trees that we have are unevenly distributed, with disadvantaged neighborhoods suffering most from environmental inequities of barren streets, higher temperatures, and flooding. The plan lays out a multi-faceted rebuilding strategy, including protection of the City’s existing trees as well as ramping up a massive, multi-year replanting effort, especially in those neighborhoods that are the most vulnerable and barren.

Local landscape architecture firm, Spackman, Mossop, Michaels, was hired to write the New Orleans Reforestation Plan. They compiled the enormous amount of research, data and feedback gathered by SOUL into an ambitious but actionable document. “Trees are why you take that streetcar ride down St. Charles and spend your afternoon in City Park,” says Emily Bullock, a Spackman, Mossop, Michaels Principal and co-author of the Plan. “Not only do they keep our streets cool, make our electricity bills lower, and help prevent flooding, but they’re also part of the magic of our city.”

Accomplishing our city’s reforestation won’t be easy, but it can be done. The Reforestation Plan charts a path for a carefully budgeted, systematic campaign to regrow the urban forest we were once rightfully famous for. More money is certainly needed: the City’s 2022 $1.5 million billion budget allocation for Forestry Services needs to increase to over $2.5 million just to match the national (per capita) average. Given the massive flood, heat, and wind reduction benefits provided by trees, this is money extremely easily recovered through cost reduction and thus well spent.

In addition to the budgetary needs, the New Orleans Reforestation Plan offers a phased approach to comprehensive reforestation. Rather than planting trees sporadically across the City, the Plan recognizes that trees are most effective in reducing floods, heat, wind and air pollution when planted closely together on contiguous blocks as a true urban forest. The Plan recommends a pilot phase over the next decade where tree canopies are established in five neighborhoods across Orleans Parish. These neighborhoods were chosen for their current tree deficit and environmental needs, and the goal is to plant every block of these areas.  These are Hollygrove, St. Bernard, the Whitney Corridor in Algiers, Central City, and Little Woods.

This initial focus will allow our collective capacity to grow into the challenge – to develop a unified tree policy, to ramp up the supply of native, water-loving trees, adequately fund the City’s tree planting and maintenance programs, blend together a reliable public and philanthropic funding stream, and build the operational capacity to plant 4,000 to 5,000 trees per year.  Post 2030, the effort can then expand city-wide, with a goal of complete reforestation by 2050.

“The City of New Orleans lost a significant amount of trees due to Hurricane Katrina, which contributed to rising temperatures and our increased flood risk. As New Orleans continues to be on the frontlines of the world’s changing climate, it is more imperative now than ever that we all work together to restore our tree canopy,” says Mayor Latoya Cantrell. “Trees and greenspaces are the natural infrastructure we need to decrease our flood risk, heat islands and carbon footprint. I am proud to partner with SOUL and all of our local organizations committed to growing our community resilience while beautifying our parks and neighborhoods citywide.”

Councilman Eugene Green will introduce a Resolution on Thursday, January 19 at the City Council Meeting to recognize the New Orleans Reforestation Plan as crucial to our city’s resilience. The Plan will be posted on SOUL’s website at www.soulnola.org on Friday at 10am. “Master plans are visions for cities, but they don’t have the force of law. The next step is to transform this vision into legislation. We are excited to pass the baton to our friends at The Water Collaborative of Greater New Orleans who are well-equipped for this process. Their Executive Director, Jessica Dandridge, has an extensive policy background, and she is deeply immersed in the environmental sector of our city,” says Susannah Burley, SOUL’s Executive Director.

Key contributors to and supporters of the plan will speak at the Reforestation Plan press conference, including Councilman Eugene Green-District D, Michael Karam-Director of Parks and Parkways, Andy Kopplin-CEO of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, Susannah Burley-Executive Director of SOUL, Michael Karam-Director of Parks and Parkways, Greg Nichols-Director of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and Resilience, Ghassan Korban-Executive Director of the Sewerage and Water Board, and Andreas Merkl-SOUL’s Board Chair.

SOUL volunteers will also be planting 25 cypress trees in the background in support of Dana Brown & Associates’ design. These trees are funded by SOUL’s long-time supporter, the Entergy Corporation.

Parking | The Wrong Iron on the Greenway | 3532 Toulouse St, New Orleans, LA 70119

Follow | Signage to the SWBNO Green Infrastructure Project at the corner Moss and Toulouse

Date | Friday, January 20, 2023

Time | 10:30-11 am

For More Information Contact:
Susannah Burley, Executive Director, SOUL
504 616 6888
sburley@soulnola.org

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