SEATTLE (News release) -- Weyerhaeuser Company and American Forests, the nation's oldest national nonprofit conservation organization, today announced a new partnership on an innovative initiative to expand American Forests' Tree Equity program into smaller, more rural communities and provide environmental education focused on careers in urban and community forestry to hundreds of youth. The program aims to identify and tackle disparities in tree canopy cover in three communities where Weyerhaeuser employees live and work and provide replicable best practices for communities nationwide. Students in those communities will learn about environmental justice issues and design a green project that gives them a window into the field of forestry.
To kick off the initiative, 20 high school students studying green careers and social equity will put their knowledge to work this week, planting dozens of trees in a community park alongside local Weyerhaeuser volunteers in Ruston, La. The students are among roughly 200 at Ruston High School who were the first to engage with a new curriculum designed by American Forests with support from Weyerhaeuser and Project Learning Tree.
Weyerhaeuser's partnership with American Forests is unique in that it brings the issue of Tree Equity beyond cities and into smaller communities also facing challenges of climate resilience and equity.
The project is built around American Forests' Tree Equity Score (treeequityscore.org), a tool that helps gauge which neighborhoods in a community need trees the most. Until now, American Forests has only used the tool to calculate neighborhood scores nationwide for "urbanized areas," or those with 50,000 people or more. With the support of Weyerhaeuser, the organization will apply the tool to "urban clusters," areas with populations between 2,500 and 50,000, making the tool more accessible than ever and helping ensure that everyone experiences the health and climate benefits that trees provide no matter their race, income, age or neighborhood.
"This project provides creative solutions to some of the cross-cutting challenges in our rural communities, including health and climate change," says Ara Erickson, vice president of corporate sustainability at Weyerhaeuser. "By adapting the novel Tree Equity Score to smaller communities and piloting it in our own operating areas, we are directly helping more communities adapt to a changing climate and remain thriving places to live."
Unveiled last summer for the nation's 486 urbanized areas, the Tree Equity Score measures how well a neighborhood or municipality is ensuring the benefits of urban tree canopy reach every resident, particularly those susceptible to extreme heat, air pollution and other conditions. User-friendly and free to use, the tool has helped shine a light on pervasive disparities in tree canopy: Data show that in cities across the nation, whiter and wealthier neighborhoods tend to have more tree cover than neighborhoods with people of color and more low-income residents.
"Not all neighborhoods are starting from the same place when it comes to trees," says Jad Daley, president and chief executive officer of American Forests. "This is true in less populated communities as well as urban centers. As a company with deep roots in its communities, Weyerhaeuser understands this, and together we're extending the reach of our Tree Equity Score and technical assistance to help smaller communities work toward Tree Equity -- ensuring that their most vulnerable people also are protected from the impacts of extreme heat and air pollution."
Weyerhaeuser and American Forests selected the project's three pilot locations based on several criteria, including demographics, government support for green priorities, health equity needs and the role of nonprofits in tree planting and environmental justice. After Ruston, La., the partners will implement the program in Tacoma, Wash., and also Natchitoches, La. Ruston and Natchitoches represent urban clusters and are home to Weyerhaeuser timberlands and a wood products manufacturing facility, respectively. Tacoma is an urbanized area and home to one of Weyerhaeuser's distribution centers.
American Forests will also pilot in Ruston its Tree Equity Score Analyzer, a deeper dive into a community's urban forestry needs. This interactive tool supports both policy and project-level interventions by incorporating local data such as hospitalizations, carbon sequestration and flood risk, with ownership parcels. TESA can help community groups, residents, urban foresters, planners and community advocates identify parcel-specific planting opportunities and project how different tree planting scenarios will impact a Tree Equity Score and factors such as carbon captured, air quality and storm water. Community members will join a stakeholder council to help inform the process with local expertise and recommendations.
Tree Equity Score is also the cornerstone of the new Tree Equity Curriculum: Exploring Green STEAM Careers, first introduced in Ruston this fall and expected to expand to other schools over the next year. Students will use the Tree Equity Score to learn about equity issues and design projects that address disparities in green spaces. Building on Project Learning Tree's Green Jobs Quiz, the curriculum allows students to explore urban and community forestry and its intersection with factors such as ecosystem services, pollution, income, ethnicity, age and health.
After taking the quiz, students are matched with a related green occupation and then work in groups to design a greening project. Through hands-on volunteer opportunities, they'll help lead activities such as tree selection, site assessment, tree procurement and planting, and creating a maintenance plan. Weyerhaeuser employee volunteers will work with the students to implement the projects in their communities.
By providing meaningful experiences to students, Weyerhaeuser and American Forests hope to inspire young people's passion for the environment and to pursue careers in urban and community forestry. Even as the desire to plant and maintain trees and forests for climate and public health grows more urgent, there aren't enough people qualified to do the work.
"Building a workforce that can respond to this need will help create both climate and economic resilience in smaller communities," says Anne Leyva, manager of people development and giving programs for Weyerhaeuser. "Weyerhaeuser is thrilled to partner on the Tree Equity project and provide additional support for our operating communities -- helping them thrive today and for future generations."
Weyerhaeuser Company, one of the world's largest private owners of timberlands, began operations in 1900. We own or control approximately 11 million acres of timberlands in the U.S. and manage additional timberlands under long-term licenses in Canada. We manage these timberlands on a sustainable basis in compliance with internationally recognized forestry standards. We are also one of the largest manufacturers of wood products in America. Our company is a real estate investment trust. In 2021, we generated $10.2 billion in net sales and employed approximately 9,200 people who serve customers worldwide. Our common stock trades on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol WY. Learn more at www.weyerhaeuser.com.
ABOUT AMERICAN FORESTS
Since our founding in 1875, American Forests has been the pathfinder for creating healthy forests from coast to coast. We are now driven by two critical issues: climate change and social inequities. Our work focuses on creating healthy and resilient forests, from cities to large natural landscapes, that deliver essential benefits for climate, people, water and wildlife. We advance our mission through forestry innovation, place-based partnerships and movement building. Learn more at americanforests.org