Miami Working to Plant One Million Trees by 2020; Increase Shade Canopy to 30 Percent

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For a city that's so hot our seawater practically boils, we have an auspicious lack of tree canopy. Our shade percentage stands at a mere 14 percent, when a healthy urban forest should be 30 percent. Less than half is less than impressive.

But the fact has not been lost on Miami's Community Image Advisory Board. Chaired by Miami-Dade County Commissioner Dennis C. Moss, they launched Million Trees Miami in 2011, with a goal of hitting their number by 2020. As of end of 2013, they were at 162,000.

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So why are trees so important? Well, besides the fact that they literally keep us alive (they make our oxygen for us, after all), trees provide a whole host of social, economic and environmental benefits.

They provide shade and protection from UV rays, they absorb noise and block glare, they reduce surface temperatures and minimize the negative impacts of heat, they have a positive effect on our mental health -- there's even evidence linking exposure to trees with better overall health.

"It's been proven trees reduce stormwater runoff and absorb negative emissions -- there are so many great benefits to trees," says Patrice Gillespie Smith, Community Image Manager for Miami-Dade's Parks, Recreation, and Open Spaces department. Hence the importance of upping the quantity of our green benefactors across the 305.

Million Trees Miami has a master tree plan that lays out all the details of their endeavor, including which trees to plant.

"Because our mission is to increase tree canopy, we're going to look at those trees that are shade producing, and always Florida native. They need least amount of maintenance and can survive hurricanes," Smith explains.

As it turns out, this doesn't include palms. Despite their ubiquitousness in Florida, most are non-native, and they don't throw much shade.

The group works with a whole host of local nonprofits like Citizens for a Better South Florida, Urban Paradise Guild and the Miami-Dade Parks Foundation, among others. Plus, they've received donations from the likes of Stella McCartney, Commissioner, Sally A. Heyman and others. Trees get planted in parks, along roadways, at transit stations and anywhere else deemed an appropriate home.

With 838,000 trees to go by 2020, they could use everyone's assistance. So what can Miami's average Joe or Jane do to help the project? For one, report any trees you plant on the Million Trees Miami website. They can only track trees planted by city agencies, but they want to know who else is putting down roots.

Also, you can volunteer with a local nonprofit that help with tree plantings.

"It's one of the easiest things you can do to offset environmental impact -- it's that easy. We really challenge everyone to identify an area where you can plant a tree," says Smith.

No trees = no us. No joke. So a million extra in our rapidly sinking backyard sounds like an excellent idea.

Follow Hannah on Twitter @hannahgetshappy.

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