Creating Change, One Tree at a Time: Million Trees Los Angeles

Go to EPA's Science Month pageGary Riley is an environmental engineer at EPA’s Pacific Southwest Regional Office, Superfund Division. He works to investigate and clean up sites on EPA’s National Priorities List of abandoned hazardous waste sites.

image of authorMany of us (myself included) see a lot of pavement and very few trees as we commute to work and go about our lives. When I was a kid, heading into the woods and exploring the trails was pretty much my favorite thing to do. That’s not so easy to do for those of us living in cities; we just don’t see very many trees. But trees also do many things that are much less visible: they cool our neighborhoods, clean the air, and reduce stormwater runoff.

That’s why I was excited to hear about Million Trees Los Angeles, one of this year’s Environmental Awards winners chosen by EPA’s Pacific Southwest Regional Office to recognize individuals and groups outside of the EPA who are working to protect public health and the environment. Let’s face it: when I think about Los Angeles, the first things in my mind are the airport, Sunset Boulevard, and the skyline; not a lush cover of green. Million Trees has an ambitious goal to plant one million trees throughout the city and use this to leverage even greater environmental change in the future.

image of students planting trees along a sidewalk next to a highway

In 2008, Million Trees increased tree planting in Los Angles tenfold, and one of the most important ways it’s doing this is by encouraging children to learn about the benefits of a healthy urban forest. Last year’s “Get Your Green On” Environmental Youth Conference attracted over 5,000 youth participants and their parents, teachers, and others. Anyone can join tree planting efforts in neighborhoods around the city. Lisa Sarno, Executive Director of Million Trees LA, tells me kids might not even notice the trees in their urban environment until they’ve planted one themselves, but then suddenly feel a connection from this simple act.

EPA’s job is to protect human health and the environment, but it’s everyone helping out in their own communities that can really create change. It can even be something as easy as planting a tree! Learn more about planting trees in your community at the Arbor Day Foundation.