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DNR pushes for urban tree canopy equity in south King County, celebrates youth participation

The DNR Friday highlighted its grant program that empowered dozens of students to plant hundreds of trees at Burien's Hilltop Park.

BURIEN, Wash. — The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recognized Highline School District students and Burien's Hilltop Park Friday afternoon as part of the state’s investment into urban forestry and tree canopy equity.

Burien’s Hilltop Park is a 7.4-acre greenspace located near two low-income housing developments and is the only park in a neighborhood where residents are predominantly people of color.

In Burien, only the neighborhoods below 20% of people of color measure tree canopy above the city average, according to the DNR, a trend that is seen across south King County.

A 2020 study examining heat exposure in urban areas across the country found extreme heat can be more dangerous depending on your zip code. Places with less tree canopy, more pavement, and large buildings retain heat, creating urban heat islands.

According to a 2020 King County-commissioned heat mapping project, north Seattle was cooler than south Seattle, especially near the interstate in south Seattle. Temperatures were also found to be warmer along the Renton, Kent, and Auburn corridor, all places where there are larger populations of communities of color.

"Trees are the answer. It's that simple. Not only do trees mitigate heat and prevent heat-related death and illness. Trees also trap pollution in our air that cause acute respiratory system symptoms," said Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz. "I believe we have a moral responsibility to address the wrongs of the past where too few communities of color and low-income communities had too few trees while others had more."

The DNR Friday highlighted its grant program that empowered dozens of middle and high school students to clear invasive blackberry bushes and plant hundreds of trees at Hilltop Park.

"Larger positive influence as a result of having good safe, open park space is bringing up grade-point averages, bringing up test scores, that offsets the impacts of poverty, the impacts of some of the negatives that the youth don't have a choice and that this is the world they're in, so this a win from so many directions," said Scott Logan, chief operations officer of the Highline School District.

The DNR said it has awarded five urban forestry grants to the 33rd legislative district, which includes Burien, SeaTac, Des Moines and Kent and three grants to the 47th district, which includes Auburn and Covington. The next DNR grant is set to be awarded to the 30th district, which includes Federal Way, and will be the first in 15 years.

This legislative session, the DNR said it is seeking an $8 million investment in urban forestry, with $2 million going toward work with Youth Conservation Corps to establish a statewide program.

"We know that we need to adopt new strategies to prepare our community for the inevitable threats faced by climate change, while at the same time working to correct existing inequities by investing in our communities, especially our youth," said Franz.


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