4 Alaska groups net $5m in grants from USDA Forest Service

FastCast morning digital headlines for Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023.
Published: Sep. 14, 2023 at 3:58 PM AKDT|Updated: Sep. 14, 2023 at 4:02 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service will allow four community organizations to plant and care for trees as part of a national program to invest $1 billion in urban and community forestry projects.

The funding, which comes from the Inflation Reduction Act, is part of an overall investment of $1.5 billion in the Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry Program, which “supports local communities and the organizations that serve them as they work to increase tree cover and boost equitable access to nature.”

Forest Service deputy regional forester Chad VanOrmer says the investments are vital to preserving traditional knowledge.

“Preserving Alaska’s culture and creating a climate-resilient future are so important to these communities in Alaska,” VanOrmer said. “These projects will help revive the cultural traditions and sustain the forests for future generations.”

A total of 385 projects will be assisted by the round of grants, and Alaska’s four recipients will collect a total of $5,105,244 funding from the program.

The Wooch een yéi jidané: Alaska Native Community Forest Program will receive $2 million for its Alaska Village Initiatives, which will allow generations of tribal members to “re-assert ownership of their traditional knowledge to benefit future generations while providing sustainable ecological and economic benefits.”

Anchorage’s Community Reforestation will receive $2 million to be used towards “planting street trees in low canopy areas, stabilizing streambanks and revegetating riparian areas along anadromous streams, reforesting areas after spruce bark beetle kill removal, and managing invasive species.”

The Metlakatla Indian Community’s Food Forest located on Annette Islands Reserve will receive $105,244 to be used “in further implementing its Community Forest Management Plan to enhance the existing forestry program and increase food forest opportunities.”

RurAL CAP’s GROW Forestry Project will use a $1 million grant to “support community orchards and food forests in disadvantaged communities across Alaska. The work will address the state’s diverse forestry needs, from hazardous air conditions in Anchorage to the limited and low nutrition produce available in Alaska Native communities.”

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made the announcement Thursday in Iowa and attributed the decision to issue the funds to ongoing efforts to combat the effects of climate change.

“We are supporting communities in becoming more resilient to climate change and combatting extreme heat with the cooling effects of increased urban tree canopy, while also supporting employment opportunities and professional training that will strengthen local economies,” Vilsasck said.

Applicants to the grant program were selected utilizing criteria from the White House Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool (CEJST), a geospatial mapping tool used to identify communities facing significant burdens due to environmental and historical inequities.