BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (WMBD) — An environmental sustainability nonprofit in Bloomington has been awarded a $500,000 federal grant to work on environmental justice issues in the area.

The Ecology Action Center and its partners will develop a data driven plan to address climate change threats to vulnerable populations. They will grow thousands of trees in areas considered to have a low “Tree Equity Score.”

According to American Forests, the DC-based nonprofit that developed the scoring tool, a Tree Equity Score measures how the benefits of trees are impacting communities affected by extreme heat and other environmental hazards. The lower the score, the greater need for trees.

“There tends to be disproportionate environmental pollution impacting public health of the residents. These are often areas where there is a tendency to be lower income residents, or often people of color . . . We’re trying to bring the benefits of trees to where they are needed the most in urban areas, where the trees can help filter out air pollution, help sequester carbon emissions, help reduce hot temperatures in the urban areas especially during extreme heat events,” said Michael Brown, executive director of Ecology Action Center.

Brown said the Tree Equity Score across most of Bloomington is between in 80 to 85, but in West Bloomington, a low-income area, that score drops to 45.

“So we need to double the number of trees in West Bloomington in order to bring about those benefits that trees naturally provide,” he said.

The Ecology Action Center already has a tree planting program where they plant 10,000 seedlings each year, but it takes a long time for trees to grow from that point. For this project, Brown said they will plant saplings that are one to two inches in diameter and five to seven feet tall. Each sapling costs about $100, compared to $5 seedlings.

“They are more expensive, but provide benefits sooner,” he said.

The Ecology Action Center will announce community planting events so residents can also get involved.