City Trees Journal: SMA

Funding Your Urban Forest Program: A Guide for New and Seasoned City Foresters 

Remember the good old days when we had all the money we needed for our urban forestry programs? No? Well, me neither. In over three decades of being a municipal forester, whether working for the City of Cincinnati or consulting for other communities, I’ve never heard anyone say, “Budget increase? No thank you; we’re good.”

Sure, things were slightly better when U.S. Forest Service pass-through grants were available, but then that funding was “redesigned,” and like salt in the wound, the great recession of 2008 hit, causing municipal general funds to plummet, and some cities to actually go broke. Because of budget pressures over the last decade, some fledgling urban forestry programs disappeared, and some established ones got very nervous.

We’ve always needed more funding. Traditionally, municipal urban forest management program funding comes from one primary source—the general fund—with some pocket-change revenue from capital budgets, grants, and even firewood sales. But these days, urban forest managers need to take a page from a financial advisor’s playbook and seek and secure funding from multiple sources so our budgets are sustainable and to ensure against the shifting sands of the national economy and local politics.

Funding for urban forest management can also be affected by factors such as competing departmental budgetary priorities, changes in public opinion, newly elected leadership, and severe weather events. When it comes to our budgets, we need to heed our own advice against monocultures. We shouldn’t rely on just one funding source, because you never know what will happen. And, as our personal financial planners would tell us, in order to maintain a viable urban forestry program under changing conditions in an unpredictable future, diversifying our funding sources will minimize the impacts of funding cuts from any one area.

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