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How to Maximize Tree Planting

Today, private individuals and corporations own approximately 60% of land in the United States. In total, 77 million people own 1.3 billion acres of private land. Additionally, 63% of privately owned lands are farms and ranches, while 32% are forests.  There is an international movement to protect 30% of land and water by 2030. This is needed to protect biodiversity, absorb and filter water, and capture greenhouse gasses.  Trees are a major absorber of carbon dioxide and old growth forests, in particular,  retain a high percentage of CO2. 

Nearly 97 percent of the land in Illinois is privately owned.  Illinois farmland is about 75% of total land area.  4% of land in Illinois is in conservation – state parks, county forest preserves 

Opportunity #1:  Private property, yards and lawns (from Homegrown National Park)

  • Targeting lawn areas, gardens, private property and asking people to “get on the map”.
  • Homegrown National Park (HNP) MAP preserving 56,000 acres so far building critical ecological networks and sparking a culture change in how we relate to nature.

“In the past, we have asked one thing of our gardens: that they be pretty. Now they have to support life, sequester carbon, feed pollinators and manage water.”


Tips from Homegrown National Park:

  • Shrink the lawn:  Every square foot dedicated to lawn is a square foot that is degrading local ecosystems and not supporting biodiversity. 
  • Remove invasive species:  Invasive plants are ecological tumors that strangle biodiversity. When invasives are removed,  it helps create habitat for natives.  
  • Plant keystone genera:   Certain plants support huge numbers of species.  These keystones help rebuild habitat and are important links in the food web. Oak trees offer the most biodiverse tree species to consider. 
  • Put in soft landings:   Plant native species under your existing trees.  Many species spend part of their life in the tree canopy and then drop to the ground.  Soft landings provide important shelter and habitat for beneficial insects, which in turn support other animals like birds 

Opportunity #2: Local Municipalities

  • Prepare and adopt Unified Development Ordinances (UDO) for  land use planning regulations. Engage with your local government to include tree planting and maintenance in planning for community development - include city’s tree ordinance
  • Push for Sustainability Department with the goal to identify tree placement opportunities
  • Plant trees in parkways and along streets to offer heat relief and capture water 

Opportunity #3: Park Districts and local parks 

  • There are 360 existing park districts in IL 
  • Work with community park districts to expand their land holdings and plant trees on their open space
  • Plant trees to enhance the health and appearance and to help to absorb water and decrease flooding 

Opportunity #4: Fire Departments in IL

  • There are more than 1300 fire departments in IL 
  • Planting of trees and native plants decreases amount of mowing required in the future 
  • Appropriate tree planting and care can be used for community education on appropriate home-hardening strategies

Opportunity #5: School Districts

  • School Districts generally have a large amount of land
  • Trees can be used to help cool playgrounds and the school
  • Trees and tree maintenance can be used as a teaching tool for the school children
  • Care for trees can be encouraged for biology or other science classes 

Opportunity  6: Public housing

  • Trees enhances the grounds of the housing complex, and contribute to cooling for buildings and grounds
  • Plus, trees are fun for children 
  • Work with local housing boards

Opportunity #7: Healthcare facilities 

  • Trees enhance the attractiveness of facilities
  • The contribute to cooling of the facilities and surrounding area
  • Trees help to absorb water and will decrease potential for flooding 

Opportunity # 8: Religious institutions

  • Religious institutions often have a lot of open land
  • Trees can enhance the appearance of the institution
  • Trees contributes to cooling of buildings and grounds
  • They help to absorb water and will decrease potential for flooding
  • For many religious institutions, care of the Earth is important

Opportunity #9: Soil and Water districts (county level)

  • Soil and water conservation districts (IL Dept of Agriculture)
  • Engage with short and long term planning
  • Elevate tree planting as a priority
  • Educate on value of trees to capture and filter water for soil health
  • Educate on value of trees to capture water and help prevent flooding

Opportunity #10: Counties

  • Encourage your county to adopt a Unified Development Ordinance  (ORD) including tree plantings and placement and open space 
  • Develop five-year master plans
  • Share the value of the Miawayki tree method for healthy tree growth and importance for biodiversity

Opportunity #11: Partner with local groups and organizations

  • Environmental/conservation groups
  • Educational groups
  • School environment/science clubs 
  • Local schools, Junior Colleges, Colleges, Universities  
  • Religious
  • Water and flood protection groups
  • Wildlife groups such as Sierra Club, Go Green, Audubon
  • Work with Openlands and Tree Keepers
  • Create Tree Ambassadors

Opportunity #12: Invest in buying available land    

  • Land Watch      
  • There are hundreds of land listings and property for sale in the southern region of the state alone represents 21,261 acres of rural land and property for sale.  Communities can investigate land to obtain and create community forests.   
  • Perhaps partner with local landowners or not-for profits to buy land or donate land.Investigate offering social bonds for individuals in the community to invest in preserving their own natural area.
  • Partner with nature preserves or Nature Conservancy on open, valuable land.

Opportunity #13: Set up land trusts

  • Land trusts are nonprofit organizations which own and manage land, and sometimes waters. There are three common types of land trust, distinguished from one another by the ways in which they are legally structured and by the purposes for which they are organized and operated:
  • A real estate investment trust is a fiduciary arrangement whereby one party (the trustee) agrees to own and to manage real property for the benefit of a limited number of beneficiaries.
  • A community land trust (CLT)  is a private, nonprofit corporation that acquires, manages, and develops land for a variety of purposes, primarily for the production and stewardship of affordable housing, although many CLTs are also engaged in non-residential buildings and uses.
  • A conservation land trust is a private, non-profit corporation in the US that acquires land or conservation easements for the purpose of limiting commercial development and preserving open space, natural areas, waterways, and/or productive farms and forests.

Opportunity #14: Illinois Department of Natural Resources    

  • Engage with the Illinois DNR to protect open land and trees