Meet LA’s new tree champion, Rachel Malarich

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Trees are the lungs of the city, as the saying goes, and they are especially healthful in hot, polluted LA.

But the city is losing trees fast. Since the year 2000, many neighborhoods saw their tree canopy drop. And some neighborhoods had very few trees to begin with. 

“I found out that tree planting is a complicated process, and a major obstacle that I don't think people are talking about enough when it comes to tree planting is the pre-existing infrastructure,” reporter Sam Bloch said on a recent DnA episode . That infrastructure includes buildings, sidewalks and overhead power lines.

Another issue is maintenance. “The idea that private citizens should be compelled to water their trees to maturity is not something that we see in every city, where the idea of the public is a little more expansive than it is in Los Angeles,” he added.

A view of the Hollywood sign from Griffith Park. Photo credit: Anna Aran/CC 2.0, via Flickr

Now LA Mayor Eric Garcetti has appointed a tree czar to take on some of these challenges. 

Rachel Malarich is a certified arborist and she starts Tuesday as LA’s first-ever city forest officer. 

And she agrees about the importance of helping trees grow to maturity.

“Most of our focus has been on planting and establishing young trees, which is very very important, and it's an activity that the community can be directly involved in. But if we don't start looking at how we manage that city forest and make sure that there's sufficient resources to manage the trees as they grow, we're never going to have that equitable canopy cover that can protect our communities,” Malarich said.

Her main job is to help implement Garcetti’s Green New Deal, and to build a better urban forest, meaning to grow the number of healthy trees in the city. 

The city hopes to increase tree canopy by 50 percent in less shady neighborhoods by 2028. Photo courtesy of Rachel Cohrs, Intersections South L.A

One of her goals? Plant 90,000 trees in the city by 2021.

“There is a whole collaborative with many groups that are planting trees in L.A. as well as the city itself now having a planting crew and Rec and Parks has been doing planting for some time. So there's many players that can participate in planting those 90,000 trees and a lot of them doing really great work already,” she said.

The city also plans to increase the tree canopy in the least shady neighborhoods by 50 percent over the next decade.

So how do you engage the public in planting and maintaining trees? Part of it may have to do with tapping into a childhood connection to a tree.

“There's always that personal experience that brings them to the point where they feel like trees are going to be a negative thing for them. And the same thing on the positive side. I bet everybody has a tree story,” she said.