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Indiana Forest Alliance creates strategy for protecting, maintaining Indianapolis's trees

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Rebecca Thiele / IPB News
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The Indiana Forest Alliance has come up with a strategy for how to better protect urban forests in Indianapolis. The group said urban forests help cool cities, capture stormwater, improve air quality and trap greenhouse gas emissions.

The strategy report said while there has been a big effort to plant trees in Indianapolis, there needs to be more of effort to protect and maintain them.

Paula Brooks is the environmental justice coordinator for the Hoosier Environmental Council. She said many mature trees in Indianapolis neighborhoods are owned by the city and it’s the city’s responsibility to maintain them and remove fallen trees and branches. But it’s residents who often end up paying thousands of dollars for maintenance removing fallen limbs — and that’s not always possible for lower-income residents.

“If a branch falls, if it blocks the sidewalk or the street — the city will come and remove it. But if it falls on your property or your neighbor's property, then it's your responsibility. So, it’s — at the end of the day it’s definitely inequitable," Brooks said.

This happens because the Department of Public Works is underfunded and can have long wait times.

Rae Schnapp is the conservation director for the Indiana Forest Alliance. She said Indianapolis has a tree protection ordinance to save some older, larger trees — but only when there's a proposal to develop the property that the tree is located on.

"If the property is not changing hands, and/or no development is proposed, then those trees are vulnerable. So we'd like to strengthen the tree protection ordinance in some ways — and we're still kind of exploring that," Schnapp said.

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Schnapp said the Forest Alliance plans to talk with the City-County Council's new Commission on Environmental Sustainability.

The Forest Alliance's strategy also includes educating people about the importance of urban forests, making more equitable access to green space, and giving landowners an incentive to protect their trees by allowing them to sell carbon credits to companies trying to offset their greenhouse gas emissions.

Schnapp encourages Indianapolis residents to get involved with their neighborhood associations and let the group know what their priorities are for their urban trees.

Some Indiana lawmakers tried and failed to pass a bill this year to create a statewide carbon credit market. But Schnapp said there are other options — like the nonprofit City Forest Credits, which specifically helps companies buy offsets in urban areas.

“We've been talking with some Indianapolis and Indiana-based companies that are interested in — in purchasing those carbon credits," she said.

Brooks said where the city could use new trees is along the main thoroughfares where there's a lot of heavy car and truck traffic — to serve as a buffer for residents who live near there from dust and pollution.

CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this story said residents are often expected to pay to remove public trees that fall on private property. For the purpose of clarity, it has been changed to residents often end up paying for fallen limbs. The city is technically supposed to remove any public trees or public tree limbs that end up on private property.

Contact reporter Rebecca at rthiele@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.