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NeighborWoods program aims to rebuild ABQ’s thinning tree canopy

Betta Eisenberg, project manager for Tree New Mexico, waters a frontier elm in the Wells Park neighborhood, one of the first to participate in the NeighborWoods program. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Because of drought, xeriscaping, and the aging and dying of established trees, Albuquerque’s tree canopy has been thinning steadily, according to city councilors who have endorsed a program to re-tree neighborhoods.

Councilors Pat Davis, Isaac Benton and Trudy Jones, and members of Tree New Mexico met on a tree-lined street in the Wells Park neighborhood Wednesday to announce that the next fall planting of trees as part of the NeighborWoods program will occur in the North Campus and Parkland Hills neighborhoods. A second planting will take place in the Oso Grande neighborhood.

The setting on Los Tomases NW was selected for the announcement because Wells Park was the first neighborhood to participate in the program and now has many healthy young trees lining its streets, Benton said.

The NeighborWoods program sprang out of a 2015 meeting Benton had with the founding director of Tree New Mexico, Suzanne Probart, “to talk about what can we do to help restore this canopy and get people involved, because the city can’t do it by itself,” Benton said.

The first NeighborWoods plantings occurred in 2017. Each neighborhood tree-planting project costs about $30,000, paid for out of “set-aside” funds that city councilors have for their respective districts. That purchases about 100 larger trees for planting in or adjacent to city rights of way, Benton said.

Tree New Mexico works with neighbors to teach them about selecting, planting and maintaining trees. The neighborhood must commit to providing volunteers for neighborhood outreach, attend tree education classes, and plant, water and maintain the trees.

With each NeighborWoods project, Tree New Mexico also makes available at no cost 100 smaller trees to people in the neighborhood, who can plant them anywhere on their property.

Bette Eisenberg, program manager for Tree New Mexico, said in the three years since NeighborWoods began, about 3,000 trees have been planted. “We’re upping our game and this fall we will plant 1,000 trees,” she said.

“Neighborhood volunteers go door to door, and that builds community. We don’t just plop down a tree wherever there’s a need for one. Neighbors meet each other, and we do a lot of education about different types of trees and the right tree for the right spot. We see that the neighborhoods become more cohesive and tight,” Eisenberg said.

Tree New Mexico makes about a dozen varieties of large trees available as part of the NeighborWoods program. These include drought-resistant, shade and flowering trees. Among them are desert willow, vita, New Mexico olive, frontier elm and Chinese pistache.

The trees are selected for specific sites, with attention to making sure that roots won’t lift sidewalks or get into and damage drains and plumbing, Eisenberg said.

Davis said trees not only increase property values, “but, more importantly, especially in neighborhoods like the International District, it’s generating a culture of taking care of our community, of taking care of our land, of learning skills that not many people have any more.”

Other neighborhoods that have had trees planted as part of the NeighborWoods program include South Broadway, Santa Barbara Martineztown, Sawmill, South San Pedro, Trumbull Village, Elder Homestead, University Heights, Victory Hills and John B. Robert.

Neighborhoods that want to participate in the NeighborWoods program should contact their city councilor.

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