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Sacramento isn’t the only California city planting trees. San Diego is, too. But not quite as many.

Sacramento has given out 375,000 trees to residents; it plans to give out 4 million more.

San Diego has given out 23,000 trees and has plans to give 15,000 more in the next two years.

The Washington Post looked at the decline in tree canopy cover in cities throughout the United States in a story that ran Monday.

We didn’t think a local angle existed. Turns out, one does.

San Diego lost 27 percent of its tree cover between 1985 and 2002, according to American Forests, a Washington-based environmental group. During that same time, the city’s urban areas increased 39 percent. The group analyzed satellite images to reach its conclusions.

But efforts to increase the tree cover have struggled to find funding. One group that provided free trees – People for Trees – recently folded. The Cool Communities Shade Tree Program, run by the San Diego Regional Energy Office, has plans to provide 15,000 trees in the next two years.

Adrienne McCrumb, program manager for the Cool Communities effort, said several factors account for the larger program in Sacramento. San Diego’s energy office has to compete for funding from the California Public Utilities Commission. Sacramento’s program is funded by a local public utility. And Sacramento has been planting trees since 1990; San Diego since 2003.

“We are far from the saturation level of trees,” McCrumb said. “We could plant trees for years and years to come.”

The Post story points out that tree programs are not universally endorsed. Some customers don’t want more trees in their yard and some private utilities are equally wary:

Across much of the United States, though, research confirming the monetary value of trees has not triggered a rush to exploit shade.

Many major private utility companies remain skeptical. In the Washington area, in California and in most of the country, they have steered clear of programs to give shade trees to homeowners, saying it is not clear that it would help the companies’ bottom lines.

Critics of big utilities say the companies have a deep institutional bias against urban trees, mostly because they spend vast amounts of money and time repairing tree-damaged power lines.

McCrumb says San Diego could benefit from increased tree cover, which would help balance the area’s increased urbanization. That’s particularly true after the 2003 wildfires, she says, which destroyed nearly half of the tree canopy in a 29,000-acre area of the city.

The local free-tree program does have a few caveats, and it does have a waiting list. McCrumb says the wait is about two months, and that “should not scare anybody off.”

More information is available about the program here.

ROB DAVIS

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