AURORA | A $5 million program to plant and maintain trees in Aurora neighborhoods with large immigrant populations kicked off Thursday with a Chinkapin oak sapling planted outside of Moorhead Recreation Center.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Xochitl Torres Small and a handful of state and local officials heaped dirt on the sapling to commemorate the more than $22 million in grants awarded to Colorado municipalities by the federal government to provide shade and improve quality of life in disadvantaged areas.
Torres Small spoke about her childhood in New Mexico, where, like in Colorado, summer temperatures can climb into the triple digits. She described providing and preserving lush tree cover for neighborhoods like the diverse community north of Montview Boulevard as a way of promoting equity across the city.
“When you have a canopy of trees, it can reduce the temperature (by) between 11 and 19 degrees,” said Torres Small. “Trees do a lot more than that, as well. … The community investment in trees is really a community investment in each other.”
City spokesman Michael Brannen later said the city originally applied for a grant of about $7.5 million to plant an estimated 6,000 trees and that city staffers were calculating how many trees could be planted with the final award of $5 million.
Mayor Mike Coffman — who attended the event at Moorhead along with council members Alison Coombs, Juan Marcano and Ruben Medina — said Aurora’s forestry team is responsible for close to 54,000 trees, nearly half of which are in poorer areas of the city.
“These areas with high immigrant and refugee populations are also the same areas with the oldest most valuable trees,” Coffman said. “This is a tremendous opportunity for Aurora to promote equity, enhance the urban forests, improve public health and foster environmental resilience.”
Representatives from the Colorado State Forest Service were also present for Thursday’s ceremony. Director and state forester Matt McCombs said the state has been working with the U.S. Forest Service for decades, planting millions of trees, but that the allocation of money provided under the Inflation Reduction Act was “significant.”
“Never in our wildest dreams could we (have expected) the type of historic investments, these seminal investments, where we have an opportunity to work together and put trees in the ground in places where they aren’t currently, where communities aren’t benefiting from both the simple and complex ways that trees fundamentally change people’s lives,” McCombs said.