In 2014, National Geographic analyzed American cities’ urban tree cover — and found that Pittsburgh came out on top, with 42% tree cover. This “expanded urban forest removes 532 tons of air pollution every year,” noted the study.

Since then, the City of Pittsburgh has dropped to an estimated 41% tree cover, due to pests, invasive species like the emerald ash borer, disease, and lack of maintenance. American cities as a whole lose an average of 36 million trees a year.

Now the good news: Pittsburgh has been selected by Cambium Carbon and the Arbor Day Foundation as one of four cities to become a “Reforestation Hub.” The group will work with the Department of Public Works’ Forestry Division.

“From sequestering carbon to bolstering health, trees are a vital resource for cities everywhere. The new business model we are building alongside Cambium Carbon will convert wood waste into new revenue streams, offering critical funding cities need to maintain and grow their urban tree canopies,” said Kyle Kornack, of the Arbor Day Foundation. “In doing so, we can accelerate regional reforestation, the creation of urban green jobs, and resiliency against the growing climate crisis.”

They seek to find ways to use wood from dead and downed trees to produce wood products and generate revenue for the upkeep of existing urban forests. Right now, these trees usually end up in landfills.

“These pilots are step one in building a circular economy for urban forestry,” says Marisa Repka, co-Founder and City Partnerships lead at Cambium Carbon. “We’re excited to work with our city partners to make the case for infrastructure and policy that will improve resource efficiency, create new jobs, and foster community resilience.”

Cambium Carbon’s circular economy for trees. Image courtesy of Cambium Carbon.
Cambium Carbon’s circular economy for trees. Image courtesy of Cambium Carbon.

Cambium Carbon will help the city explore ways to find new sources of revenue for maintaining city forests. That can include finding ways to reuse wood from fallen trees and the sale of carbon credits as a way to subsidize reforestation.

“Pittsburgh’s tree canopy and urban forests provide many benefits, but resources are needed to make all of our greenspaces the community assets they should be,” says City Forester Lisa Ceoffe. “Optimizing the health of some of our unmanaged public properties and increasing tree canopy will create more opportunities for recreation, improve stormwater management, provide shade and cooling in summer months, stabilize our hillsides, sequester carbon and air pollution, and deter dumping.”

Pittsburgh’s Climate Action Plan 3.0 involves increasing tree canopy coverage, as a tool for carbon sequestration and combating climate change.

Cambium Carbon, based in New York, aims to reforest America and enable economic growth from wood. Their goal is to plant one billion new trees across the U.S. by 2030.

The other Reforestation Hubs are Denver, New York City, and Eugene, Oregon.

Michael Machosky

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife, Shaunna, and 10-year old son.