Metro East ReLeaf Project

In a Nutshell

The Metro East ReLeaf Project is an initiative proposed by Hearthlands Conservancy to reforest the urbanized areas of the St. Louis Metro East region to improve air quality, enhance community health, and promote economic development. The goal is to plan for, plant, and manage 21,000+ new trees in the metro east. This project involves creating a regional urban forestry program, which will provide a tree inventory, maintenance plan, planting plans, ordinance development, and tree acquisition for 64 metro east communities. The project requires an investment of $100,000 per year for 15 years, or $1.5 million total.

Project Information


NEED: The St. Louis region has historically had issues with air quality. According to the American Lung Association, the region ranks #13 out of 277 regions for the most high-ozone days; Madison, St. Clair, and Randolph Counties in Illinois received “F-Ratings for Ozone”.  All air quality testing sites in the St. Louis Metro East averaged above the National Air Quality standard and statewide average for Ozone between 2010 and 2012. Other significant air quality concerns in the metro east include lead, particulate matter (PM-10 and PM- 2.5), Carbon Monoxide, carbon dioxide, and HFC-134a (Tetrafluorethane).

While the region is making some strides in reducing automobile emissions—the primary culprit causing poor air quality—the region’s air quality can be significantly improved through urban forestry. Benefits of urban forestry also extend beyond air quality and include increased property values, better stormwater management, increased groundwater recharge, reduced energy use, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and improved health for residents.

PROJECT AREA: The project will provide an urban forestry program for the 64 municipalities with a population over 1,000 in the Illinois counties of Bond, Madison, St. Clair, Monroe, Randolph, Washington, and Clinton Counties.  The first phase of the project will focus on Madison and St. Clair Counties (areas with heavily urbanized areas).

Communities include, but are not limited to, Alton, Belleville, Bethalto, Cahokia, Caseyville, Centreville, Collinsville, Dupo, East Alton, East St. Louis, Edwardsville, Fairview Heights, Glen Carbon, Godfrey, Granite City, Maryville, Mascoutah, O’Fallon, Pontoon Beach, Shiloh, Swansea, Troy, Venice, and Wood River.

ABOUT US: HeartLands Conservancy is a non-profit organization serving seven counties of the St. Louis Metro East—Madison, St. Clair, Monroe, Randolph, Bond, Washington, and Clinton. Our mission is to ‘provide leadership and solutions to sustain and enrich the diverse environmental resources of Southwestern Illinois.’ Our vision is for a sustainable Southwestern Illinois, including ‘communities with healthy and sustainable air, land, and water resources for current and future generations.

HeartLands Conservancy has been investing in the nature of southwestern Illinois for more than 26 years. Our three program areas include:

  • Land Conservation- Protecting our land resources: farmland, natural areas, and properties of vital importance.
  • Building Greener Communities- Providing community planning and implementation of initiatives that improve environmental health within our communities.
  • Engaging Communities- Fostering continued appreciation for our region’s natural resources in inspiring ways.
  • For more information about HeartLands Conservancy, visit:


PROJECT PROPOSAL: This project requires HeartLands Conservancy to recruit and hire a qualified urban forestry professional that will work with local communities to establish committees, create tree inventories, develop tree plans, and delineate action steps for each tree plan (e.g. fundraising strategy, ordinance development, planting trees). The urban forester(s) will also work with communities to raise funds and coordinate volunteers to plant and maintain trees.

None of the Metro East communities have a forester, and most, if not all, lack the funds to hire a forester. A regional approach to this program is a cost-effective solution to rebuilding the forest resources of southwestern Illinois. Other benefits of the regional approach include enhanced collaboration among municipalities, ability to pool resources, and ability to implement and achieve outcomes on a larger scale.

REQUEST: HeartLands Conservancy is seeking direct donations or grants to fund this program. Our funding goal for each year is $100,000.

RETURN ON INVESTMENT: We estimate that the amount spent on this program will be offset by the monetary benefits of reduced air pollution EVERY ten years of the tree’s life cycle.


TOTAL PROJECT COSTS: $1.5 Million or $100,000 per year for 15 years




DESIRED IMPACTS: Increase tree canopy in 64 communities to 40%.

Community Population Size Number of Communities in SW Illinois Trees Each Total Trees
>5,000 27 500 13,500
2,500 - 4,900 19 250 4,750
1,000 - 2,499 18 150 2,700
Total Trees (all communities) 64   20,950

Values provided in the following two charts are derived from a report, "The Value of Green Infrastructure, A Guide to Recognizing Its Economic, Environmental and Social Benefits"; Center for Neighborhood Technology and American Rivers, 2010. Financial values cited within this report were developed by the US Forest Service as basis recommendations for financial valuation of criteria air pollutants.

Estimated Amount of Pollutant Reductions from Urban Forestry Program

Pollutant Affect Trees Have on Pollutant Per Tree (lbs.) Annual (lbs.) 20 Years (lbs.) 50 Years (lbs.)
NO2 (Nitrogen Dioxide) Uptake and Avoided .63 13,199 263,970 659,925
SO2 (Sulfur Dioxide) Uptake and Avoided .42 8,799 175,980 439,950
O2 (Ozone) Uptake .2 4,190 83,800 209,500
PM-10 (Particulate Matter < ten micrometers) Uptake and Avoided .26 5,477 108,940 272,350
CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) Direct & Indirect 444 9,301,800 186,036,000 465,090,000

Estimated Dollar Value of Pollutant Reductions from Urban Forestry Program

  $/lb. (annually) Annual $ 20 Years $ 50 Years $
NO2 $3.34 $44,081 $881,626 $2,204,066
SO2 $2.06 $18,126 $362,519 $906,297
O2 $3.34 $13,995 $279,892 $699,730
PM-10 $2.84 $15,555 $311,094 $777,734
CO2 $0.01 $70,322 $1,406,432 $3,516,080
Return on Investment $162,078 $3,241,563 $8,103,907

An additional value, approaching $1,000,000, would be realized through the acquisition of 20,950 trees and volunteer time incurred in installing and maintaining trees.


  • Green Goal 6, Objective 2: Improve tree canopy.
  • Air quality indicator- Avg number of days per year the EPA Air Quality index exceeds 100 for ozone.
  • Tree Cities Indicator: Percent of municipalities that are certified by Tree City USA.
  • Tree Canopy Indicator: Percent of land with tree canopy cover.


Mary Vandevord, Chief Operating Officer
HeartLands Conservancy
406 E Main Street
Mascoutah, Illinois 62258
(618) 566-4451 x 20
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

More InformationMore Information

Center for Neighborhood Technology: The Value of Green Infrastructure

American Public Works Association: Urban Forestry Best Management Practices for Public Works Managers

Similar program: Forest ReLeaf of Missouri:

Similar program: Openlands Regional Tree Initiative (Chicago):

Similar program TreeVitalize (Pennsylvania):