They give awards to trees?

Sacramento Kings might leave—but the city's award-winning trunks aren't going anywhere

Sacramento has, as they say, hella trees—and now the capital’s urban forest recently was named one of the top 10 in the United States.

Sacramento has, as they say, hella trees—and now the capital’s urban forest recently was named one of the top 10 in the United States.

Sacramento has a thing for trunks.

It’s not what you’re thinking. The self-proclaimed City of Trees has a thick green canopy known for keeping neighborhoods cool during steamy Northern California summers. And who doesn’t love a stroll or bike ride through leafy neighborhoods like Midtown and East Sacramento?

The rest of the country is starting to notice.

Earlier this month, a conservationist group called American Forests released a new study giving major props to Sacramento’s tree canopy. The capital was named one of the top 10 urban forests in the United States.

The study didn’t include rankings, so there’s no way to truly rate Sacto’s awesomeness when it comes to trees.

Scott Steen, CEO of American Forests, did say the city has worked hard in keeping the forest healthy while linking up with leaf-friendly volunteer groups such as the Sacramento Tree Foundation.

Not bad for a place with summers hotter than purgatory.

“Sacramento has done so much right in this area to create a city that really is now heavily forested in a climate that is not really ultraconducive to building a forest,” said Steen.

The American Forests study, which was funded by the U.S. Forest Service, used several criteria to pick the top cities, including volunteer involvement, management plans, tree health and public access to green spaces. Other burgs listed in the study included New York City; Seattle; Portland, Ore.; and Washington, D.C.

Steen also said that Sacramento’s forestry program has done a number of progressive things to stand out, including a unique partnership with SMUD to plant free shade trees throughout the city. He called that program “a model for the rest of the country.”

It wasn’t always that way.

Believe it or not, Sacramento’s urban canopy had humble beginnings. The city’s leafy dome actually started with just a handful of eucalyptus trees in the 1850s, when most of the surrounding landscape looked like flat prairie land, said former Sacramento City Councilman Ray Tretheway, who now leads the Sacramento Tree Foundation.

“Sacramento has this legacy of valuing trees, planting trees and protecting trees,” he said.

Tretheway should know. His organization plants roughly 20,000 trees every year in the Sacramento area with help from about 2,000 volunteers.

“Historically, they’ve been a great partner,” said Joe Benassini, a manager in the city’s urban forestry program. “They have been the folks that since the early ’80s have really stepped up to have a long-term vision.”

Benassini said the foundation especially helps with planting trees on private property, where 80 percent of Sacto’s urban forest grows. The city, which has roughly 100,000 trees, also relies on Tretheway’s group for outreach.

“It’s not only getting trees in the ground,” said Benassini. “They promote awareness of how important trees are.”

Part of that awareness includes talking about the environmental benefits from urban forestry. According to the foundation’s website, 100 trees remove 5 tons of CO2 per year. Trees release moisture into the air, which helps cool temperatures, while also providing shade that helps reduce energy costs by up to 30 percent. For those reasons, the foundation wants to plant 5 million trees by 2025.

That’s welcome relief for a city used to baking in the sun.

“We couldn’t live without air conditioning,” said Benassini. “Trees kind of buffer all of that.”

Lately, it’s not just the trees. The latest recognition from American Forests is just the most recent green kudos awarded to the city.

Sacramento took fourth last year in a nationwide study of green cities and also had the second-ranked park system, according to The Trust for Public Land.

“Sacramento is doing great stuff,” said Steen. “You should be proud to be there.”