Earlier this year, the nonprofit Milwaukee Water Commons launched a green infrastructure initiative to increase the urban tree canopy in the city’s neighborhoods. The program, called Branch Out Milwaukee, is a community-led, resident-driven collaboration in neighborhoods long neglected by policymakers and with high rates of poverty and environmental health issues such as asthma. The program focuses on equity, public health, environmental health, climate resilience, and workforce development while maximizing the benefits of an urban tree canopy.
The pilot program, launched in April in the Sherman Park neighborhood, involves planting trees as a practical step toward addressing climate change. A robust tree canopy helps capture rain and therefore reduces flooding and increases soil’s absorption of stormwater, along with providing other benefits. Trees remove carbon dioxide from the air and protect people from the sun, as well as improving mental health and wellness and adding natural beauty to the landscape. So far, two vacant lots in Sherman Park have been transformed by local people coming together to plant trees. There also has been increased interest in climate education in the neighborhood.
The Branch Out Milwaukee pilot program includes the development of Wisconsin’s first neighborhood tree board. The Sherman Park Neighborhood Tree Board is a volunteer committee of residents who participate in making decisions involving trees and green spaces in their neighborhood. The program also includes development of a neighborhood tree inventory in which Milwaukee Water Commons staff will work with residents around Sherman Park to identify the species and age of trees on their properties and in their favorite green spaces and share information and resources about trees and tree care. They will also catalogue trees to be added to the Department of Natural Resources Wisconsin Community Tree Map, thereby assisting future forestry programs and building connections with the city forestry department.
Milwaukee Water Commons will fund Branch Out’s work with homeowners in Sherman Park, coordinating professional assessments of trees on private property and subsidizing the cost of hiring arborists to maintain trees that pose a risk to public safety or property. The organization will also provide residents in Sherman Park with information about partner programs, the benefits of trees, forestry employment and career opportunities, tree care resources, and information on purchasing and planting trees.
Milwaukee Water Commons launched Branch Out Milwaukee to address inequity and to bring economic, health, and environmental benefits to the community, believing that in tackling climate change and environmental issues, it is important that the diverse perspectives of all communities are included. They are working to build a multi-cultural, multi-racial coalition that includes people from underrepresented communities, people from the working class, and people who don’t identify themselves as environmentalists. Branch Out Milwaukee hopes that their initiative and its diversity will contribute to the conversation around climate change, climate resilience, and climate justice.