Image courtesy of Plant Five for Life.

One organization will be welcoming new lives into the world with a special ecological gift.

Plant Five for Life, a nonprofit sponsored by New Sun Rising, has launched a program that will plant five trees for every child born in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. Beginning this fall, the trees will be planted in or near each child’s community, with a focus on areas with the most need for ecological and social services.

“We believe a gift of trees at birth gives a more equal opportunity for environmental justice and access from the start,” says Plant for Five founder Christine Graziano.

Working collaboratively with healthcare facilities including UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, The Midwife Center for Birth & Women’s Health and several others, Plant Five for Life will provide new parents with information about the program in their hospital discharge packets. The organization is also in talks with other facilities throughout Allegheny County to alert parents about the program.

The planting will take place at sites where the trees will be protected and not at risk of being cut down.

Graziano believes the program will contribute to replacing the lost tree canopy in the region. Earlier this year, Tree Pittsburgh reported that Allegheny County lost 10,000 acres of its tree canopy between 2011 and 2015. The city of Pittsburgh alone lost six percent of its canopy coverage in that time due to road, pipeline and real estate development, tree diseases and other factors.

“We believe that a reversal of this trend requires a greater sense of connection, appreciation and understanding of the value of trees and the role they play in supporting our health, and human and planetary life systems,” says Graziano.

The hope is that by planting five trees for every child born in Pittsburgh each year (that’s approximately 13,000 children per year), the number of trees in the county would increase by about 65,000 annually. By 2030, about 780,000 trees will have been added to the city and surrounding areas, which is a goal of the Pittsburgh Climate Action Plan.

Besides expanding the tree canopy and creating more beautiful neighborhoods for future generations, Graziano points out that studies have found a strong positive relationship between improved mental health, outdoor exposure and contact with trees.

The benefits extend to general well-being — one study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine suggests that significant tree loss has led to an increase in cardiovascular and lower respiratory tract illnesses in certain communities.

As for identifying those areas most in need of trees, Graziano says their process includes data assessment and working with communities. To date, they have identified sites in need of trees within 10 miles of ZIP codes for every child throughout Allegheny County. As the program grows and new planting sites are chosen, they expect to match closer and closer to recipients’ ZIP codes.

“We’d like for many of the children to be able to walk or bike ride to the sites where the trees are planted,” Graziano says, “so they can get to know them over a lifetime.”

Amanda Waltz

Amanda Waltz is a freelance journalist and film critic whose work has appeared locally in numerous publications. She writes for The Film Stage and is the founder and editor of Steel Cinema, a blog dedicated...