Trees on the median on East Park Avenue at Neptune Boulevard...

Trees on the median on East Park Avenue at Neptune Boulevard in Long Beach, which was one of three Long Island communities to recently receive grants aimed at growing the tree canopy. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Three Long Island communities are making major upgrades in their greenery with federal grants aimed at boosting tree cover in urban and suburban areas across the country.

Last week the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service awarded a combined $2.1 million to North Hempstead, Smithtown and Long Beach as part of $1 billion in funding for neighborhoods impacted by climate change, pollution and environmental hazards.

Trees play a vital role in the environment because they mitigate heat, absorb stormwater and filter air and water, according to the Forest Service. 

The Town of Smithtown received a $1 million grant. Officials there said they plan to use the funding to complete a street inventory of existing trees — recording details on tree health, location and species. They'll also plant 2,000 new trees, prune 3,500 others and expand educational outreach.

“The impact of 5,500 healthy trees will add decades of beauty and environmental benefits to Smithtown,” said town Environmental Protection Director David Barnes.

Smithtown’s Department of Environment and Waterways has taken inventory of 27,000 streets with trees, which is about 80% of the inventory in the town, according to Barnes. The town has planted nearly 2,000 trees since 2019.

Barnes said Commack, Nesconset and St. James are the areas town officials will focus on first for the tree initiative before expanding townwide as part of a five-year project.

The Town of North Hempstead also received a $1 million grant and officials plan to plant 4,500 new trees in the next five years.

“We will be growing the tree canopy, doing public outreach, doing community engagement events,” said Councilwoman Veronica Lurvey, a member of the town’s tree advisory committee.

Town officials said priority will go to areas in New Cassel, Roslyn and Port Washington, which U.S. census data shows are North Hempstead sections with higher urban development and fewer tree canopies.

Lurvey said the town’s tree advisory committee recently made recommendations for planting in disadvantaged areas. 

“We’re trying to change the culture around the Town of North Hempstead, so trees aren’t seen as a nuisance, hindrance or tripping hazards, but seen as an important part of our communities and our health,” she added.

In Long Beach, officials plan to use a $100,000 grant to plant more than 100 trees on the city's north side.

Long Beach lost more than half its trees due to Superstorm Sandy and officials have worked through the years to replace them, according to Patricia Bourne, the city’s director of Economic Development and Planning.

She said in 2015 the city received state and federal grants along with a donation from Long Beach native actor-comedian Billy Crystal to remove dead and dying trees after Sandy and plant 3,000 new trees.

Bourne said the latest grant will help strengthen the North Shore of the barrier island, with the roots of the plantings helping to retain soil while the new trees also provide shade and help balance the environment.

City officials are working to determine what types of trees are better suited for the seaside location.

“Bayfront, you would want to put trees that do better in the wind. Closer to the salt water and farther inland, closer to Park Avenue, you can plant other types of trees,” Bourne said. “In Long Beach you really have to look at the microclimate to see what kind of trees are appropriate.”

The funding came out of the Inflation Reduction Act.

“This $2.1 million federal investment means cleaner air, a better environment and improved quality of life for Long Island communities,” U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who helped secure the funding, said in a statement.

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