Partner Highlights

 

Austin, Texas

Volunteers plant trees at restoration event led by Tree Folks in Austin, Texas. Photo credit: Tree Folks.

Volunteers plant trees at restoration event led by Tree Folks in Austin, Texas. Photo credit: Tree Folks.

Replanting Riparian Forest Buffers in Austin

The City of Austin, Texas has declared bold goals when it comes to climate change, including carbon neutrality for city operations by 2020 and net-zero greenhouse gases community-wide by 2050. The city’s recently adopted Water Forward plan sets a course to provide for the water demands of one of the fastest growing cities in the nation.

Water is a precious resource in central Texas, and rivers and streams with healthy forest buffers are critical to both water quality and quantity — as well as vital contributors to fish, bird, and wildlife habitat and our natural ecosystem. City officials struggle to balance new development to accommodate the needs of a growing city with preserving its natural assets and tree canopy, to continuing to pay for all the things needed to meet the city’s policy goals and maintain the high quality of life that attracts people to the area.

Recently, the State of Texas passed legislation that severely limits the ability of Texas local governments to provide an adequate tax base to pay for needed public services such as emergency response or parks. Knowing that it will take more than city action alone to protect and preserve what’s best about Austin, a committed group of stakeholders has come together to pioneer an innovation that can help ensure the health of the region’s riparian forest buffers while supporting the city in meeting its carbon reduction goals. With the aid of City Forest Credits, the Austin Office of Sustainability, the Austin Watershed Protection Department, Travis County and the local nonprofit tree organization, TreeFolks, are completing a pilot project and launching, the Travis County Floodplain Reforestation Program to generate carbon credits from reforestation of local rivers and streams.

Example of healthy stream with riparian forest in Travis County. Photo credit: Tree Folks.

Example of healthy stream with riparian forest in Travis County. Photo credit: Tree Folks.

Example of mature riparian forest. Photo credit: City of Austin.

Example of mature riparian forest. Photo credit: City of Austin.

Investing in green infrastructure can increase climate resilience.New riparian forests will also help to mitigate Austin’s urban heat island. Since heat islands can affect communities by increasing energy demand, air conditioning costs, greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution and heat-related illness and mortality, this reforestation program offers multiple ecosystem and human benefits. Public trees in Austin currently remove an estimated 803 metric tons of air pollution annually, including ozone, nitrogen, particulates, and volatile organic compounds, while producing nearly 58,000 metric tons of oxygen.

“I think the work is innovative and potentially game-changing.
To harness the market to create environmental benefits in cities is a great thing.”
Zach Baumer, climate program manager for the City of Austin

The reforestation project also serves to engage local community members with the local environment, complementing Austin’s participation in the Biophilic Cities network and the Children and Nature collaborative, and aligning with citywide green infrastructure efforts. Reforesting Austin’s local stream corridors will create lasting change, both within the city limits and across eastern Travis County floodplains.

Read more about the details of this work in the Fall 2019 Issue of the Biophilic Cities Journal. “Replanting Riparian Forest Buffers in Austin through City Forest Carbon+ Credits” - written by Lucia Athens, Chief Sustainability Officer, City of Austin and Mark McPherson, Executive Director, City Forest Credits.