BOSTON, Mass. (SHNS)–Tree canopies shading Massachusetts cities and towns could grow dramatically, particularly in environmental justice communities where there’s currently scant coverage, under a legislative proposal to launch a municipal reforestation program.

Neighborhoods with less than 20 percent tree canopy cover — defined as “the surface area of the land covered by the combined leaves, branches, and trunks of all standing trees in a given area when viewed from above” — are deemed top priority locations in bills filed by Reps. Steven Owens and Jennifer Armini and Sen. Cindy Creem (H 869/S 452).

Lawmakers say enlarging the state’s tree canopy can create more livable communities and overcome racial disparities in low-income neighborhoods, where a dearth of coverage contributes to excessive heat, poor air quality and health problems. It would also help Massachusetts reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reach the net-zero goal by 2050, as trees remove carbon dioxide from the air and offer other environmental benefits, such as providing habitats for wildlife and reducing soil erosion.

“Trees play a critical role in creating a healthier, safer and more connected community,” Owens said during a legislative briefing Thursday. “They filter our air and water, and they provide climate resiliency.”

Under the legislation, cities and towns could receive state and federal dollars, plus other donations and grants, and technical assistance as they develop their own reforestation plans. Sites considered heat islands would also be prioritized in tree canopy projects, followed by neighborhoods with less than 40 and less than 60 percent tree canopy cover. The municipal reforestation program would be required for all Massachusetts municipalities, except for towns with less than 10,000 residents and a tree canopy of at least 60 percent.