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Vilsack in Iowa to announce over $1 billion for tree plantings nationally

Amy Mayer/IPR File

USDA Sec. Tom Vilsack said unprecedented federal money will promote the planting and maintenance of new trees. His tour to get out the word about the spending began in a town still recovering from the loss of many of its trees.

The 2020 derecho left a hole in Cedar Rapids. Fallen trees clogged the roads, bringing down power lines and even buildings. When all was said and done, the town of 140,000 lost two-thirds of its trees. But officials just announced some big news for the effort to rebuild.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack joined Cedar Rapids city officials to announce $6 million in federal funding for its reforestation plan.

“Cedar Rapids consistently figures out a way to commit itself to community. Consistently looks for the opportunity to rebuild into a better community, a stronger community,” Vilsack said on Thursday. “... We know that this program will not only create jobs itself and will spur other economic development which is always important, and will be advancing equity.”

The money is part of a $1.13 billion shot in the arm from the Inflation Reduction Act. According to Vilsack, the federal government’s traditional budget for funding urban tree planting is $36 million dollars a year for the entire country. Under the Inflation Reduction Act, that has increased to over $1 billion.

“We appreciate that this work will take several years and that federal investments like the one announced today are foundational for making relief a reality,” Cedar Rapids Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell said.

The USDA’s Forest Service grant program awarded 385 applicants nationally. The funding is meant to increase the tree canopy of cities and expand access to parks. It aims to reduce temperatures in urban areas and to promote better air quality by reducing carbon dioxide and pollutants in the air that are absorbed by trees.

Zachary Oren Smith is a reporter covering Eastern Iowa