Where is environmental justice? A review of US urban forest management plans

Elsevier, Urban Forestry and Urban Greening, Volume 77, November 2022
Grant A., Millward A.A., Edge S., Roman L.A., Teelucksingh C.

The distribution of trees and access to nature is rarely equitable across urban neighborhoods. This injustice is present in many cities, and its origins are predominantly rooted in enduring procedural and recognitional injustices. The purpose of this research was to systematically investigate Urban Forest Management Plans (UFMPs) prepared by municipalities across the United States (107 total) for their mention and explanation of environmental justice themes relevant to urban forestry. UFMPs describe municipal urban tree-planting and stewardship goals as well as pathways for both implementation and monitoring. Using a mixed-method approach that combines qualitative content analysis and quantitative measurement, we interrogated UFMPs for reference to three specific environmental justice pillars: distribution, procedure, and recognition. Mentions and explanations of these concepts were identified and counted for all UFMPs. Summary counts were then investigated for association with a UFMP's publication year, its municipal population, and its racial composition. The frequency of reference to environmental justice themes was greater in UFMPs published more recently and whose authoring municipalities have a larger population. A positive association exists between the proportion of Black residents in a city with an UFMP and the frequency of identified distributional justice explanations. While a positive association with procedural justice mentions was found with the proportion of white residents in UFMP authoring cities, environmental justice, overall, is not a central theme across most UFMPs published to date. More generally, we discovered that where UFMPs referenced environmental justice concepts, it was often brief and lacking in substance; recognitional justice themes were absent in almost all documents. Improving environmental justice goals and implementation strategies in UFMPs that validate the perspectives and experiences of residents can strengthen accountability between urban foresters and the communities they serve.