May 28, 2023

At the same time, American cities are facing a heat crisis: the largest are warming twice as fast as the entire planet.

On an afternoon that felt too hot for June, 14-year-old Kiara Wright leaned over a young honey locust along a busy road in Des Moines and carefully splashed water from two five-gallon buckets into the dry earth. The city was drought and copious amounts of water will be essential for the trees to stay at least two years after the shock of the transplantation.

Earlier this spring, Kiara had helped plant this season’s 500 trees, and she liked them enough to name a few: Sparkles, Linden, José. Now she pours, mulches, and weeds for $ 10 an hour. Over the summer, her small team also learned financial literacy and shadow people in various green jobs.

“We grow the trees and we grow the teenagers,” said Kacie Ballard, who coordinates the program for Trees Forever, a nonprofit group that is now planting almost every street tree in town. “It’s cheesy, but it’s true.”

In addition to the ecological advantages of trees, there are also economic opportunities.

“This is an area employers beg in,” said Jad Daley, president and chief executive officer of American Forests, a nonprofit group. “In any case, there is a job waiting.”

Planting in Des Moines will resume this fall, with a focus on formerly framed communities that are most in need of trees. Across the country, racist policies have made these neighborhoods particularly bare and hot.

Leslie Berckes, program director at Trees Forever, hopes to get 1,000 trees in the ground by the end of the year, surpassing an agreement with the city. But the number still feels bittersweet. Four times as many are needed, public and private Land to meet the state’s goal of increasing tree canopy by 3 percent by 2050. Instead, she fears that her efforts will not be enough to keep her steady.