Cedar Rapids City Council to adopt ReLeaf Cedar Rapids plan

Immediately following the devastating derecho on August 10, 2020, Cedar Rapids city leadership identified that recovery would rely on thoughtful work and planning to restore the tree canopy better than it was before.

The goal was to not only replace what was lost, but also address expected challenges for future generations through the environmental benefits of a healthy urban forest.

As a result, the city entered into a partnership with Trees Forever, who contracted with Jeff Speck of Speck and Associates, and Confluence, Inc., to develop a plan that could serve as a public resource to guide future decision-making related to the restoration of the tree canopy in Cedar Rapids. The public and multiple other partners participated in the plan including the Monarch Research Project. The plan will be presented to city council for adoption on Tuesday, February 8 during the city council meeting according to a news release.

Cedar Rapids city manager Jeff Pomeranz. CREDIT RICHARD PRATT

“We are proud of this plan and the partners who worked with us to complete it. Not only was the tree loss in Cedar Rapids unprecedented, but this type of work and dedication to restoring the canopy is unparalleled,” said Cedar Rapids City Manager Jeff Pomeranz.

The ReLeaf plan demonstrates a commitment to rebuilding a resilient canopy of mostly native trees, one that preserves citywide plant diversity and distinct neighborhood character, while striving to limit climate change, increase social equity, encourage volunteerism, and grow human capital. It targets the needs of the city, institutions, non-profits, large-lot owners, and residents with tree planting education and information that can be followed as an operational handbook for the next ten years. The plan is available on the city’s website at www.CityofCR.com/ReLeaf.

As the storm’s impact was uneven throughout the community, equity in replanting was important. Over 7,500 street locations were evaluated and scored based on factors including prior canopy, urban heat islands, population density, social vulnerability, tree loss, pedestrian infrastructure demand, roadway classification, and available planting sites. This resulted in a prioritized inventory of street trees to plant over the ten-year cycle, including budget information and data requirements.

The plan focuses on rules to follow that include: Right Tree, Right Place, Right Reason; Citywide Diversity and Local Character; Local Not Imports; Big Not Small (plant trees that grow big); Tots Not Teens (plant young trees); Let Trees Mingle; Plant With a Plan; and Break the Grass Habit. Tree planting program concepts are covered, including how to use seedlings to increase the tree supply inventory and programs for encouraging neighborhood involvement in tree planting. A comprehensive list that groups trees by desirability is available as well for use by residents, public, and private organizations.

Residents will benefit from a Yard Tree Plan that emphasizes native tree species that benefit pollinators and wildlife. The plan includes ways Trees Forever can help private landowners replant quickly. It also includes a step-by-step guide to planting.

More than 42,000 trees will be planted along Cedar Rapids streets and in city parks. Thirty-eight park planting plans are included in the plan, with information for planting the remaining parks. ReLeaf Cedar Rapids also outlines areas where City ordinances or policies need to be changed to accommodate the aggressive planting plans, such as changes to tree spacing requirements along streets and in parking lots and changes to the tree mitigation and preservation requirements for developing lots.

“After a year of hard work, we are excited to share great resources and information with the public about the plan to recover. This plan outlines how we grow our canopy back better and smarter with results that will benefit citizens in as few as five years and as long as generations,” said Sandi Fowler, Deputy City Manager.