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Taking Root: Project to Plant Trees Connects VCU and Carver

Wyatt Carpenter

(Photo: Wyatt Carpenter from VCU’s Office of Sustainability assists in the tree planting effort.)

A project to plant dozens of trees this month in Carver will make the neighborhood a greener and more walkable community, while offsetting the carbon footprint of Virginia Commonwealth University as the trees grow.

The Carver Tree Project, the pilot project of the Urban Forestry Collaborative, has brought together resources from VCU, nonprofits and state agencies to plant and maintain 75 trees in the neighborhood, located just north of VCU’s Monroe Park Campus. VCU will be the first university in Virginia, and one of the first in the nation, to claim carbon offset credits for the new trees under a peer-reviewed program developed at Duke University.

“This is a project that benefited the university as well as the neighborhood, because both parties learned from each other,” said Jerome Legions Jr., president of the Carver Area Civic Improvement League.

Following more than a year of planning and study, the trees will be planted Saturday, Nov. 17, and Sunday, Nov. 18. Volunteers are needed, with morning and afternoon slots open both days.

Quantifying the value of green

The value of mature urban trees goes beyond beauty. They provide shade, reduce energy bills, capture rainwater runoff and — key to this project — capture and sequester carbon dioxide as they create oxygen. A recent U.S. Forest Service study estimated $18 billion in annual benefits derived from urban trees.

Using aerial imagery and other geographic information system tools, the tree canopy across Richmond was examined. The collaborative found an overlap between street trees and income data. High-income neighborhoods have more street trees, while trees were sparse in other areas.

“Carver has some of the lowest tree canopy cover in the city,” said Wyatt Carpenter, sustainability projects and program coordinator in the VCU Office of Sustainability. The 144-acre neighborhood has less than 10 percent tree canopy cover, compared to a citywide average of 26 percent.

Students collected data on urban forests and the ecological benefits trees provide in both the Carver neighborhood and an urban neighborhood in Panama City, Panama (through a Panama avian ecology class).

Students in the Panama class were able to find connections between the benefits trees provide in two nations.

“It was a powerful lesson for our students to see our community partners, both here and abroad, making such a difference in their local communities through the seemingly small act of planting a tree,” said Catherine Viverette, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Center for Environmental Sciences.

The students used the data to estimate how many trees they would need to plant to offset the carbon footprint of their international travel. VCU plans to apply the carbon credits of the new Carver trees to offset the impact of travel by university students, faculty and staff.

“I take students to Panama every year, and we talk a lot about how much carbon we use every year to do that, and how to offset that,” Viverette said.

Read the full VCU News Article.

To volunteer with the Urban Forestry Collaborative, sign up here.