Northern Research Station News Releases

Climate adaptation tools designed for health of urban trees and people

Madison, WI, June 25, 2021 - A new suite of resources assembled by the USDA Forest Service and the nonprofit American Forests is unique in two ways: it delivers strategies designed specifically for urban forests, and it offers a “climate adaptation menu” rather than a climate adaptation prescription.

Published by the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station, a report titled “Climate Adaptation Actions for Urban Forests and Human Health” describes strategies that can be used to make forests more resilient to effects of climate change such as warmer temperatures, more frequent heavy precipitation, and extended drought. The Climate and Health Menu expands on previous Forest Service urban forest adaptation research with new consideration of environmental equity and the effects that urban trees – or the lack of trees – have on human health.

“Trees and green spaces are critical for making cities resilient to climate change,” said Maria Janowiak, the report’s lead author and Acting Director of the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science (NIACS), a Forest Service led partnership with industry, universities, and non-governmental organizations. “People managing urban forests and green space need tangible actions specific to cities, and the new Climate and Health Menu synthesizes peer-reviewed science into actions that can be implemented by all of the agencies, organizations and people who manage urban natural resources.”

Decades of research by the Forest Service and many others has established that trees do considerably more than add beauty to city streets and neighborhoods. To name just a few, benefits of trees include: producing oxygen that people and wildlife breath; cooling the air, reducing air pollution, storing carbon (a key player in climate change when it is not stored), providing food for wildlife, and giving city dwellers a green respite from the built environment.

In addition to scaling climate actions to meet the needs of cities and communities, the Climate and Health Menu’s authors were also deliberate in designing a menu of actions rather than specific recommendations. “Cities and city residents are in the best position to decide how they navigate changing conditions,” said Jad Daley, president and CEO of American Forests. “The report is a comprehensive source of information on the effects of climate change for cities and strategies for addressing it, and it supports community decision-making.”

The Climate and Health Menu is built on a framework developed in previous Forest Service research on adapting Chicago’s urban forests to climate change, but places more emphasis on the relationship between urban trees and human health as well as equity in the distribution of urban trees throughout cities. It can be used with the Climate & Health Action Guide, available through the Vibrant Cities Lab website, and complements the new Tree Equity Score tool released by American Forests.  “Decades of research have shown links between urban forest and human health,” said Leslie Brandt, a climate change specialist with the Forest Service and a co-author of the Climate Menu. “New research is underscoring the health disparities among residents of areas that have fewer trees and green space.”

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The mission of the Northern Research Station is to improve people's lives and help sustain the natural resources in the Northeast and Midwest through leading-edge science and effective information delivery.

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The mission of the U.S. Forest Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains world-renowned forestry research and wildland fire management organizations. National forests and grasslands contribute more than $30 billion to the American economy annually and support nearly 360,000 jobs. These lands also provide 30 percent of the nation's surface drinking water to cities and rural communities; approximately 60 million Americans rely on drinking water that originated from the National Forest System.

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USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. To file a complaint of discrimination, write to USDA, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Avenue, S.W., Stop 9410, Washington, DC 20250-9410, or call toll-free at (866) 632-9992 (English) or (800) 877-8339 (TDD) or (866) 377-8642 (English Federal-relay) or (800) 845-6136 (Spanish Federal-relay).


Last modified: June 25, 2021