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A tree canopy program launches in north St. Louis County to help improve air quality

The Nature Conservancy in Missouri
Pine Lawn Alderwoman Bettie Lee (left), Pine Lawn Mayor Terry Epps (middle) and homeowner Dorothy Collins (right) help plant a black gum tree in Collins' backyard. The Treesilience program aims to replace dead, dying or hazardous trees in parts of north St. Louis County and replace them with new ones.

The Nature Conservancy in Missouri will plant 100 trees in parts of north St. Louis County to help reduce air pollution, heat islands and floods through a tree canopy program.

Through the Treesilience initiative, the conservancy will work with Forest Releaf of Missouri and the community development organization Beyond Housing to remove dead, dying or hazardous trees on private properties located in some neighborhoods in north St. Louis County. For every tree removed, foresters and volunteers will plant two new trees.

People who live in some communities in north St. Louis County suffer from high rates of asthma-related hospitalizations and other respiratory illnesses because of poor air quality, said Doug Seely, a community forester for Beyond Housing.

“As we increase the tree canopy, each one of those leaves becomes a little air filter,” Seely said. “So the more leaves that we have out there, the more particulate matter we can take out of the air, which keeps it from getting into the lungs of our youth and our elderly, which can help alleviate some of those health issues like asthma.”

The program aims to help people like Dorothy Collins, who lives in the Pine Lawn neighborhood in north St. Louis County. The area has high rates of air pollution and asthma-related hospitalizations. Foresters cleared a hazardous tree from the side of Collins' home and planted two new black gum trees in her backyard.

Collins said she worries about her grandchildren’s health when they visit her because of the poor air quality. Her grandson suffers from asthma, and she is afraid to let him play outside.

“It makes me feel bad because they have problems breathing when they are around, and I don't like to see them suffer,” Collins said.

The program also will provide education to residents about the benefits of trees and how to manage them.

Some people take trees for granted and forget that they have other purposes besides beautifying communities, said Rebecca Hankins, partnership coordinator at Forest ReLeaf in Missouri.

“A tree-lined street is not only beautiful, but it adds value to properties,” Hankins said. “It provides much-needed shade, which reduces energy costs. It provides stormwater management, which can help reduce flooding in basements. It reduces stress levels. It calms traffic.”

Forest ReLeaf in Missouri will hire youths to help plant and discard trees. Forest ReLeaf’s Canopy Crew also will work with green industry experts to gain job training.

“There's just so many benefits that trees provide, and exposing youth to trees and what they do and having them be a part of that work will just help create new tree stewards for the future,” Hankins said.

Follow Andrea on Twitter: @drebjournalist

Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.

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