Item Coversheet

Board Action Request

Item Description:
Authorize the offering of tree canopy improvement grants, NTE $500,000

BE IT RESOLVED, that the Hennepin County Environment and Energy Department be authorized to offer tree canopy improvement grants to municipalities, multi-family affordable housing providers and non-profit organizations and that funding for the grants be allocated from the Solid Waste Enterprise Fund, subject to final grant award approval by the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners, in a total not to exceed amount of $500,000.


History: The Environment and Energy Department seeks to offer grants to cities and multi-family affordable housing providers to enhance the county’s tree canopy. The goals of the grants are to combat threats to trees from invasive insects and diseases; promote the development of a more diverse, resilient and equitable tree canopy; and support efforts to educate the public on tree care and the importance of trees.


The Emerald Ash Borer alone is expected to kill one million ash trees (approximately 15 percent of the county’s tree canopy) in the next five to 10 years. Based on experiences of other states, the effects of the Emerald Ash Borer will overwhelm municipalities’ capacity to respond to the tree loss. This will result in the removal of trees without replacement and a corresponding decline in the tree canopy and its associated benefits. Managing the ash borer will place significant burdens on municipal budgets and staff.


County-wide data analysis conducted by Environment and Energy and Geographic Information Systems staff has identified a correlation between tree canopy deficient areas and areas of air quality, economic and health disparities. The parts of Hennepin County identified by the Metropolitan Council as most vulnerable to impacts from the increasing occurrence of extreme heat events also correlate with these areas. All of this information has been incorporated into the development of a tree planting prioritization map. Without proactive efforts to improve the tree canopy, the loss of trees from Emerald Ash borer will exacerbate these disparities and health risks.


Trees improve air quality by intercepting particulates and other pollutants, reduce storm water runoff, and provide shade that mitigates the excessive heat events and reduces energy consumption, as well as increase property values.


To encourage cities to plan for pests such as the Emerald Ash Borer and develop and expand forestry programs, the county would offer grants to assist cities with completing tree inventories followed by assistance for tree planting and other activities. Based on staff outreach efforts, only about one-third of Hennepin County municipalities have completed tree inventories, an integral part of a municipal forestry program. Grants of up to $5,000 would be made available to municipalities to complete tree inventories, contingent upon a 25% match. Municipalities that have completed a tree inventory and have forestry staff would be eligible for grants between $5,000 and $50,000 to develop tree management plans, plant and maintain trees, conduct outreach, develop gravel-bed nurseries and perform other efforts to improve the tree canopy. Municipalities would be required to provide a one-to-one match to demonstrate their investment in the project and leverage additional funds.


The county also would provide grants to affordable housing properties to preserve and replace existing trees or increase tree plantings beyond minimal municipal requirements. Many multifamily affordable housing properties are located within the tree planting priority areas identified by staff.   In an effort to address this issue, grants between $1,000 and $20,000 would be made available to owners of existing affordable multi-family housing, developers of new affordable multi-family housing, and affordable housing land trusts to increase the tree canopy in these locations.  A 25% match will be required.


Grants would also be available on a case-by-case basis to nonprofit organizations and schools for small scale planting projects, such as Arbor Day events. A portion of the funds would be reserved for tree replacement and canopy enhancement projects on non-capital improvement county projects and on tax-forfeit property administered by the county.


Funding for these grants would be allocated from the Solid Waste Enterprise Fund. Grant applications would be solicited through an Request for Proposal process. Funding will be awarded on a competitive basis judged on the merits of the applications received. Applications would be evaluated on the long-term impact and sustainability of the project as well as the canopy need based on tree planting priority areas identified by the county. 


Providing grants would be a proactive investment for a healthy tree canopy and a cost-effective response to the threat from the Emerald Ash Borer. The grants would be used for the following activities:

  • Inventory and monitor trees to allow for rapid responses to infestations, which slows the spread and makes the response more manageable.
  • Proactively replace ash trees. This strategy allows replacement trees to become established, reducing the ecological and aesthetic impacts of mass tree removals.
  • Diversify trees to reduce the possibility of tree loss stemming from over-planting of any one kind of tree susceptible to destructive pests or diseases.


Current Request: This request seeks authorization to offer tree canopy improvement grants that would provide funds to municipalities, schools, non-profit organizations, and affordable housing developments to encourage the completion of tree inventories, tree planting and tree canopy enhancement efforts with a total not to exceed amount of $500,000. Funding for the grants would be allocated from the Solid Waste Enterprise Fund.


Impact/Outcomes: The tree canopy improvement grants will promote a more diverse, resilient and equitable tree canopy; mitigate the effects of tree pests and pathogens by improving municipal forestry capacity; and facilitate tree canopy improvements at affordable housing developments and in other areas of need. Residents will be educated on the benefits of trees and engaged in tree planting efforts. Placing priority on grants that plant trees in areas of the county with disparities in health, income, housing and tree cover will help make the tree canopy more equitable and help reduce economic, environmental and health disparities.

Recommendation from County Administrator: Recommend Approval