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The city of Whiting, Indiana, has an ambitious goal to plant 5,000 trees in the next five years through a collaborative effort including USDA Forest Service technical assistance.
Whiting is in a heavily industrialized section of northwestern Indiana. It is a socially vulnerable community, home to the largest BP refinery in the United States and several other industries. The city has a very low tree canopy cover, at 4%. The land area where the refinery is located spans over half the city and is covered in asphalt, concrete and other materials, making much of its surface impervious to rainfall.
The mayor of Whiting and BP operations staff recently agreed to use land owned by BP and the city to improve tree canopy cover there and create a vegetative buffer between the refinery and surrounding neighborhoods.
The newly planted trees will address the sparse canopy cover, provide community benefits through stormwater retention, capture particulate matter, provide community engagement and beautify the landscape. The trees can also help provide a natural noise buffer.
Led by Prof. Mary Pat McGuire, undergraduate students in the Regional Design Studio at the University of Illinois Department of Landscape Architecture partnered with the city of Whiting to design landscape plans for vacant lots to be forested. So far, two of these lots have been planted with more to come.
This project has multiple partners, including the city of Whiting, Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission(NIRPC), SCA, BP America, the University of Illinois Department of Landscape Architecture, USDA Forest Service, Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ urban forestry program, Northern Indiana Public Service Company, Wildlife Habitat Council and Urban Waters Federal Partnership. Several of these organizations are core partners in the CommuniTree Program locally administered by the NIRPC. To date, CommuniTree has planted over 10,000 trees through the program.
Drew Hart, a Forest Service natural resource liaison based in the Chicago area, described the project as a “true collaboration.” Daiva Gylys, national manager for community programs at the Student Conservation Association (SCA), agreed, calling it “a strong example for future collaboration in how to achieve a successful project.” Gylys added, “I’m happy to be part of an initiative that employs young local people, works in conservation and community engagement. The experience of planting a tree in your neighborhood is one that will last forever.”
Click here to learn more about this project and the partnerships through which it is supported.