At Partners in Community Forestry Conference, trees seen as central to great cities

Last week, I joined a number of my colleagues in attending the 2012 Partners in Community Forestry Conference in Sacramento, California.

The Foundation sponsors the now-annual gathering, which gives urban forestry professionals from around the country the chance to reconnect with peers and share best practices.

Increasingly, community trees and how we care for them are seen as integral to effective growth and development and improved quality-of-life in our nation’s cities.

California, with 95 percent of its population in urban areas, is at the forefront of that discussion, due in part to two recent state laws.

The first, AB 32, requires California to develop a plan for reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. The second, SB 375, asks communities to build housing and transportation system in ways that further those emission reduction goals. Growing and maintaining tree-rich neighborhoods is part of how these laws will be implemented.

“It’s sort of a one-two punch going on there,” said presenter Connie Gallippi, senior policy consultant for the Sacramento-based Conservation Strategy Group. “I think we’ll see a good deal of funding come into urban forestry from this.”

I had a chance to see these opportunities during a walking tour of two of Sacramento’s neighbors: Davis and West Sacramento. Though reduced to one full-time city forester, Davis has a robust and healthy tree canopy and an involved citizenry. West Sacramento got a later start, but is in the midst of a number of innovative projects, including planting along major thoroughfares and in medians to enhance commercial districts and improve storm water management.

But whether it’s the shading of our homes, cleaner air, vibrant main streets or improved health – none of these benefits will reach their potential unless they are communicated to a broader audience.

“We’re good at putting our programs together and being successful and really poor at telling our story,” said Ray Tretheway, executive director of the Sacramento Tree Foundation. (He’s also a past Sacramento City Council member and Arbor Day Award winner).

The tie-in to regional planning and great cities almost writes itself, if only urban forestry advocates make their stories known to the right people.

Despite tough financial times, “money still follows great ideas and the people behind them,” said panelist Craig McMurray, managing director of corporate development for Capital Public Radio.

That summarizes the sentiment of the conference well: big challenges, coupled with enormous opportunity.

Participants compare notes during general session.

All photos courtesy of Karina Helm of the Arbor Day Foundation.

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