San Jose is losing hundreds of acres of trees every year, study says

San Jose trees are slowly disappearing.

Despite boasting ambitious climate goals, the country’s 10th largest city is in the midst of an environmental crisis as the tree canopy that shadows it decreased by 1.82% between 2012 and 2018.

This percentage may seem small, but consider that it represents 1,728 acres of public and backyard trees, or the equivalent of 2.7 square miles, according to a recent analysis by the U.S. Forest Service.

This leaves only 13.5% of San Jose covered with trees, compared to 28% of Seattle, 27% of Boston and 40% of Steel City Pittsburgh.

And in the poorer areas of San Jose, the picture is even bleaker. The study found that those areas have almost half the shade and greenery compared to the wealthier parts of the city.

Magdalena Carrasco, councilwoman representing East San Jose, said, “I see this not only as an environmental injustice that needs to be corrected, but I see it affecting our mental health, education and everyday lives “

Trees offer many benefits, such as lowering temperatures, filtering the air, reducing flooding, and providing shelter for senior citizens walking across the street and children playing tag. According to experts, people who live in areas with fewer trees are more vulnerable to pollution, extreme heat and potential health problems.

Rhonda Berry, CEO of our City Forest, Silicon, said, “If you’re walking outside, jogging, playing, anything, you really want to do it where the trees are because otherwise, I want to say, you’re going to get into the tires.” breathing.” The Valley’s leading urban forestry nonprofit that plants most of the new trees in San Jose. “To me, (trees) are like hi-tech technology. They do it all.”

San Jose City arborist Russell Hansen can’t say with certainty what happened to all the trees that were gone, though possible explanations range from climate change to poor maintenance to inadequate planting to remove property development. run.

New one. 242 page city report community forest management plan – Discovers how decades of under-investment and mismanagement have led to the current situation and warns that the damage could continue unless rectified.

Although the city aims to reach 20% tree coverage by 2051, according to the plan, this could fall below 10% by 2030 at the current pace.

“If funding and management of community forest continues at current levels, this decline in canopy cover will continue,” the plan states.

According to the report, about 40,000 trees would need to be planted to recover 1% of the lost canopy cover. The city set aside $210,600 in this year’s budget to plant 250 trees in city-owned park strips in eastern San Jose.

The problem is that about 90% of San Jose’s trees are on private property or in public possession and property owners are responsible for maintaining them. This means that collaboration with partners such as our City One, school districts and residents will be integral to the city’s success in reaching its goals.

Since 1951, San Jose has put the obligation to maintain “street trees”—those planted between a street and a sidewalk—on property owners. As a result, they have to pay for tree-related problems such as roots clogging up sidewalks and can be cited for removing trees without a permit.

Jerry Flores, 70, recently received a letter from the city ordering him to break down three patches of cement on his property, fill the areas with dirt and plant three trees. Flores, who lives in the evergreen area of ​​the city, had removed some trees on his property decades ago after a car hit him and another died. But the city learned about the tree removal last summer during a nearby inspection.

“I don’t have a problem with the trees,” Flores said after they were planted late last year, “but once they’re there, they have to be maintained and the homeowner is responsible. That’s the problem.”

Flores got the new trees for free for a grant from our town’s forest, but still had to come up with about $1,900 for the cement work and dirt.

SJM L TREES 0107 2
SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 5: Jerry Flores poses for a portrait in front of his home with one of the three trees required by the city on Wednesday, January 5, 2022 in San Jose, California. (Nhat v. Meyer/Bay Area Newsgroup)

Carrasco, who has advocated for more tree planting and maintenance efforts in eastern San Jose, sees this as a problem.

“We have a policy that instead of encouraging families, landlords, tenants, our residents to plant and maintain trees, we punish them if there is any disruption in infrastructure,” she said in a recent interview. “So for a low-income family, it’s not an incentive to plant a tree.”

San Jose’s Community Forest Program currently has a budget of about $4 million, and the city’s parks department—which maintains more than 30,000 trees—has only $150,000 per year for tree services. The program would require an additional $20 million to $24 million per year, according to city estimates, to manage public property and all the trees along the way.

It didn’t help that the city recently failed to take full advantage of a $750,000 grant from Cal Fire that could pay for a full public tree listing. The city’s Department of Transportation left approximately $460,000 on the table for failing to meet grant requirements.

City transportation officials blame the COVID-19 pandemic, but some local advocates and conservationists are skeptical.

“It’s very puzzling how this could happen, especially since we’ve been talking about this course for many years,” said Vicki Moore, a longtime Santa Clara County conservationist. “To my mind, it just smacks of a lack of clear communication and perhaps a lack of oversight and overall management.”