AmeriCorps team (2)Guest blog by Jessie Rudd, CivicSpark AmeriCorps member. Jessie, along with her team of AmeriCorps  members are partnering with California Urban Forests Council in assisting local government agencies  and disadvantaged communities in the San Joaquin Valley improve and/or   implement urban forestry  programs in their communities!

Do you ever traverse I-5 or Highway 99 through the interior of California during winter months and realize you cannot see? Well, we can’t help you see the cars in front of you, but we can help you see why this hazy obstacle makes you feel more like a stuntman driver accomplishing a huge feat and less like a commuter simply clocking miles.

sjv haze

During winter months in the San Joaquin Valley colder air sits closer to the surface while warmer air at higher altitudes. Surrounded on three sides by mountain ranges, the San Joaquin Valley is a basin for industrial, agricultural, and residential pollutants and these emissions become trapped in the Valley creating some of the worst air quality in all 50 states!

So we know smog is bad and we know trees clean the air, however, while the State grapples with severe drought conditions and restrictive watering, maintaining the benefits of our urban forests is increasingly difficult; and this challenge affects everyone (who like to breathe air) but especially people who have built their lives in the San Joaquin Valley. Often referred to as the Appalachia of the West, residents in the San Joaquin Valley have a much lower quality of life than elsewhere in California. In 2009 more than a fifth of the population lived below the poverty line (much higher than the state and national average), almost 30% lack a high-school diploma, and incidence of asthma is among the highest in the nation. Persistence of crime, homelessness counts, severity of addiction to drugs and alcohol, obesity rates, presence of diabetes, lack of access to healthcare, and unemployment facts tell a similar story of destitution. The sheer magnitude of the economic and environmental challenges in the San Joaquin Valley can be overwhelming, but cannot be resolved without taking action.

Small things make a difference in our quality of life; trees can become big things (duh, Giant Sequoias!). Though the potential of a tree seedlings in the San Joaquin Valley may be difficult to fully understand  – or tell others about –  this story needs to be told. Us tree folks need to stand tall like a redwood and paint a complete picture of the services provided by healthy urban forests; and we need this story to reach the poorest, the dirtiest and the most dangerous neighborhoods in California. May we overcome the San Joaquin Valley haze!