by Jackie Flynn: The effort starts with its first-ever forest officer…
Los Angeles, the sprawling city of freeways, thinks its future depends on trees. And it may be right: Research shows trees improve air and water quality, store carbon, and can even reduce stress. All these benefits don’t seem to be lost on Mayor Eric Garcetti, who in late April announced his version of a Green New Deal for the city. Among other measures, he mandated that every new city-owned building be all-electric, established a goal to phase out styrofoam, called for a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, and, crucially, tasked the city with the goal of planting a whopping 90,000 trees by the end of 2021. “With flames on our hillsides and floods in our streets,” Garcetti said in a press release at the time, “cities cannot wait another moment to confront the climate crisis with everything we’ve got.”
The ambitious tree-planting project falls under the purview of Rachel Malarich, the city’s forest officer—a job that was just created in August to “oversee the growth of Los Angeles’ urban forest” as part of Garcetti’s Green New Deal. An arborist with more than a decade of experience in urban forestry, Malarich was appointed just days before the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report that emphasized the role of trees and forests in combatting climate change. The project will grow what’s already the largest urban forest in the country, making what happens in Los Angeles an important model for other cities looking to go green.
A real tree nerd myself, I called Malarich last month, when she was just a few weeks into the job, to chat about the unnoticed benefits of urban foliage, which species is her favorite, and the challenges of actually planting tens of thousands of trees in just a few years. Below is an edited and condensed version of our conversation.
In my mind, your day-to-day looks something along the lines of Leslie Knope’s job from Parks and Rec. What kinds of things do you deal with now or do you expect to deal with?
I don’t think I’m down into a routine yet. In this initial time, I’m meeting key stakeholders, including heads of departments and council offices and kind of doing the rounds of doing introductions. I’m also doing some background research. But I don’t know yet, honestly [laughs]. I’m still finding out where to get paper and pens.
I’m trying to wrap my head around this goal of 90,000 new trees by 2021. It would require planting, on average, almost 100 trees per day [beginning in April 2019]. How is that going to be possible?