San Antonio receives ‘Tree City of the World’ designation

San Antonio is the first city in Texas to earn the achievement.

A file image of a tree. (Image by 652234 from Pixabay)

SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio Parks and Recreation Department announced that the city would be recognized as a “Tree City of the World.”

San Antonio is the first city in Texas to earn the achievement, according to data from other recognized cities.

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The designation comes from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the Arbor Day Foundation.

The city had been a “Tree City of the USA” for eight years.

“Becoming a Tree City of the World reflects our dedication to environmental sustainability and underscores the invaluable benefits that trees bring to our city,” Michael Holinsky, an urban forester with the Parks Department said.

The recognition is undoubtedly a positive step for the city in retaining its commitment to environmental sustainability. But what comes from the recognition, and how did San Antonio reach the esteemed status?

How did San Antonio receive the designation?

San Antonio met five of the core standards set forth by the Arbor Day Foundation.

The program was created in 2019 to commend and celebrate a city’s tree population.

  • Establish Responsibility - A dedicated team and staff member with city administration were designated responsibilities for tree management and conservation. The partnership ensured there would be a coordinated and effective approach to tree care and preservation.
  • Set the Rules - The city implemented comprehensive tree policies and regulations that protect the urban tree canopy while providing tree protection and maintenance guidelines.
  • Know What You Have - Necessary steps were taken by the city to develop a detailed inventory of trees. This undertaking allows the city to track tree health, growth and needs, ensuring an informed decision-making process for effective management and preservation.
  • Allocate Resources - Several necessary resources were allocated to support tree planting, maintenance and education programs. This helped to demonstrate the city’s commitment to sustainable urban forestry.
  • Celebrate Achievements - San Antonio celebrates and showcases a collective commitment to cultivating a greener and more sustainable community through free annual events.

San Antonio’s tree density

While the accolade is commendable considering projects currently underway, such as the soon-to-be-developed Arboretum San Antonio on the Southeast Side, inequality of tree canopy is an issue residents have long been concerned about.

Several comments on the City of San Antonio’s Instagram post recognizing the achievement cite that the timing is “ironic.”

“Is this a joke?” one user writes. “This is really ironic because the city is consistently destroying natural habitats and cutting down ancient trees despite a large outcry from hundreds of residents.”

Another user referenced the ongoing battle over sacred heritage trees in Brackenridge Park.

“Weren’t yall trying to cut down important, sacred trees at Brackenridge park?” the user writes.

In April, the Texas Historical Commission voted to approve permits for tree removal in the park.

A map under “tree canopy” from the city’s climate initiative page shows San Antonio’s tree canopy using 2014 National Agriculture Imagery Program data.

Further, according to the website, San Antonio “aims to have 40% of our city covered with tree canopy by 2040.” A graph on the page shows that the city is currently at 30% of its goal.

An additional map on the page shows a graph displaying a map of the city and the areas of the highest and lowest need for shade. The areas listed as “highest need” are a large portion of the West Side, East Side and portions of the South Side.

One way the city aims at curbing these inequities in tree coverage is through its EquiTree Program.

The city offers residents in neighborhoods — which are lower-income and situated in the high-need sections of the city — free 30-gallon trees. The website says the planting is coordinated with external vendor(s).

Residents are informed of the opportunities courtesy of a bilingual door hanger, which residents can fill out to request a tree.

According to the website, the Parks and Recreation Department “is invested in increasing uptake of its equity tree program.”

The public is encouraged to participate in several free annual events to strengthen San Antonio’s tree canopy.

Día del Árbol takes place from 9 a.m. to noon on Nov. 4 at Mission Marquee Plaza. While supplies last, more than 700 trees in one-gallon buckets will be given away to the public for free.

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About the Author:

Mason Hickok is a digital producer trainee at KSAT. He graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio with a communication degree and a minor in film studies. He also spent two years working at The Paisano, the independent student newspaper at UTSA. Outside of the newsroom, he enjoys the outdoors, walking his dogs and listening to podcasts.