By: Andrew Ullman, Project Developer
With so many competing tasks when it comes to managing your community’s urban forest, it can be overwhelming and difficult to know where to start. Ideally, a well-managed urban forest will maximize the ecological benefits provided by the trees, begin to correct historical environmental injustices, allow you to prioritize public safety, add to the quality of life for residents, and provide a strong return on investment. However, getting to the point where those things are happening is not a simple task. There are often multiple goals and priorities, but too little funding to address all of them. You may find yourself asking: How do I prioritize the budget that I do have? What do I choose to invest in? Also, what can I do to maximize the efficiency of my budget?
When working with clients to help them navigate this journey, I encourage them to consider all of the options for starting points. There are several different paths to choose from, and you’ll need to decide which one works best for your community. Here are three options that provide great returns for urban foresters:
Option 1: Become a Tree City USA Community
One good option is to become a Tree City USA Community. Tree City USA is a free national recognition that started in 1976 sponsored by the Arbor Day Foundation. A community who is recognized by the program has met the four core standards required for the designation: maintaining a tree board or department, having a community tree ordinance, spending at least $2 per capita on urban forestry, and celebrating Arbor Day. Meeting the standards required to achieve this designation means you’ll be on the right path to advancing your urban forestry program.
Option 2: Hire a Professional
Another option worth considering is hiring an urban forester or arborist to assist with the management of your community’s trees. That role can be filled by either creating a new position within your staff or contracting with a consultant for an on-call position in either a part-time or full-time position. Partnering with a qualified and experienced consultant can be a cost-effective way to fill the need for an urban forester or arborist when hiring new staff isn’t feasible.
Option 3: Conduct a Tree Inventory
A preferred starting point for urban foresters is conducting an inventory. Ideally, you will be able to complete a full inventory all at once, or in phases that take place relatively close to one another. Even a partial or sample inventory can provide incredibly valuable data if you focus on geographic areas that are most important in your community, like historically underprivileged areas, downtown areas, or shopping districts. The data collected during an inventory provides the necessary baseline information to facilitate the transition from reactive management to a proactive management approach. Inventory data can also help identify and prioritize any maintenance needs and any vacant planting sites to inform your planting program down the road. Using the lessons learned from analyzing your inventory data can help guide the development of your urban or community forestry program, and allow you to leverage the data to advocate for additional funding.
The size of your community, tree population, and your budget will all play a role in establishing your goals and developing a sound plan for achieving them. There is no one-size-fits-all solution when undergoing the process of developing or advancing your program.