About Sean Barry

Sean Barry is the director of media relations for the Arbor Day Foundation, based in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Retiring U.S. Senator Mike Johanns an Arbor Day ally

Nebraska United States Senator Mike Johanns, who announced his retirement yesterday after more than three decades in public service, has been an ally of the Foundation and our programs in a number of areas.

nebraskaWith his colleague then-Senator Ben Nelson, Johanns introduced a resolution last year to commemorate the 140th anniversary of Arbor Day. The resolution noted the tree-planting holiday’s growing popularity around the world and encouraged Americans to find an event in their own community.

“It’s about more than simply planting a tree,” Johanns said at the time. “Arbor Day highlights the important role every one of us plays in land stewardship.”

We heartily agree. Effective policy – in land use, resource management and environmental protection – is necessary but insufficient absent our own conservation vision and involvement. As Johanns has pointed out, many rural communities in Nebraska and elsewhere rely on natural resources for their livelihoods. That makes long-term, sustainable management of those resources crucial.

Forestry resources are also of growing importance to tourism and economic development in cities and towns of all sizes.

We were fortunate to welcome Johanns and members of his staff to Arbor Day Farm last March. While on the property, the Senator had a chance to tour the Tree Adventure attraction and our greenhouse and hazelnut growing facilities, as well as work alongside crew members as they packed tree seedlings to be mailed to Arbor Day Foundation’s members.

“Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Arbor Farms in Nebraska City, where Morton’s legacy lives on in the important work that is being done there,” Johanns said in an e-news update following his visit. “Staff at Arbor Farms prepare and ship between 30,000 to 50,000 tree seedlings daily to places all around the world. Celebrating Arbor Day is a tradition in our state that appeals to Nebraskans’ natural civic duty and passion for the land. I am proud to share in this celebration today with my fellow Nebraskans.”

Best wishes to Senator Johanns and his wife Stephanie – and we look forward to getting to know his successor in 2015.

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Senator Johanns takes a turn at packaging tree seedlings.

Atlanta BeltLine links 45 neighborhoods, brings green space to residents

Cities around the country are finding creative ways to add and enhance recreational trails, a trend that helps bring the benefits of urban forestry to greater numbers of people.

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a national advocacy group, has long encouraged communities to convert abandoned rail lines into trail networks.

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That vision has come to life in an exciting way along the Atlanta BeltLine, as the New York Times notes today:

Until last year, the old railroad tracks that snaked through east Atlanta were derelict. Kudzu, broken bottles and plastic bags covered the rusting rails.

But these days, the two-mile corridor bustles with joggers, bikers and commuters. Along a trail lined with pine and sassafras trees, condos are under construction and a streetcar is planned.

The current Eastside Trail is one part of a larger project that will eventually span 22-miles and include new housing and transit.

The story of how the BeltLine got off the ground is an inspiring one – and a reminder that one person with a vision can have a lasting impact on policy. It started as a graduate thesis at Georgia Tech in 1999. But rather than gather dust – and many theses do – it was picked up by then-Councilmember Cathy Woolard, who brought artists, environmentalists, real estate and transit advocates together to champion the plan.

Overtime, the BeltLine will become even greener – volunteers planted more than 600 trees along the trail last October.

The long-term benefits will also be substantial, with enhanced opportunity to spend time outdoors in the clean air and connect to different parts of the city, some of which have been left behind by previous development efforts.

“Build it and they will come” is how the saying often goes. But, in this case, the space is already there. It is just being re-purposed in creative ways – and already serving as an inspiration for other communities.

Photo courtesy of Atlanta BeltLine.

Members’ hazelnuts growing at Arbor Day Farm

Last summer, staff at the Arbor Day Farm greenhouse reached out to a select group of members for their help with our hazelnut project.

Hazels270The Foundation and its Hybrid Hazelnut Consortium partners – Rutgers University, Oregon State University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln – have worked since 2008 to develop disease-resistant hybrid hazelnuts that will thrive in a variety of soils and climates.

For years, we have been collecting hybrid hazelnuts from participating members, in hopes of getting closer to that so-called “super hazelnut.”

The results have been fascinating. Hazelnuts we’ve gotten back here in Nebraska have been brown, almost black, some even reddish, and of varying sizes. All are healthy and critical to our continued research. Read more about it at the Lied Lodge & Arbor Day Farm Blog.

The benefits of hazelnuts as a perennial woody crop are profound. The leafy bushes are ideal for absorbing carbon dioxide through much of the year. The plants are drought and flood resistant, thus able to be maintained without heavy labor. And, protein-rich nuts provide a healthy source of nutrition for the planet’s expanding population. One day, they could help feed healthy nations.

It’s happening right here at Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City – and in the yards of our members across the country.

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Photos courtesy of Arbor Day Farm.

Oregon Department of Forestry: Trees benefit business districts

State foresters often have their hands full with managing public woodlands miles away from the nearest home or business. But it’s becoming more common to hear them tout the numerous benefits of urban forestry, whether they work directly with cities or not.

Downtown-EugeneCynthia Orlando, a certified arborist with the Oregon Department of Forestry, makes the case for urban forestry in general and the pluses to commercial areas in particular in an op-ed in the Statesman Journal.

The research points to substantial long-term gains in commercial areas with ample street trees. U.S. Forest Service studies have found $2.70 in benefits for every $1 invested in city trees, and Orlando also points to University of Washington research showing increased foot-traffic in tree-lined commercial areas.

There’s also the qualitative element. What kind of attributes are people looking for in a business district? Orlando writes:

Healthy trees send positive messages about the appeal of a district, the quality of products there and what customer service a shopper can expect — they’re an important component of any program to attract shoppers and visitors

Portland received well-deserved attention for its growing tree canopy, but many of Oregon’s smaller cities have exciting programs as well. Oregon State University in Corvalis is the first and only Tree Campus USA in the state. Salem and Eugene (pictured above) are both drawing new housing and business to their forested downtown.

Find out more about urban and community forestry in Oregon here.

Photo courtesy of Oregon Attractions

U.S. Forest Service says increased land use development threatens woodlands

Last month, the U.S. Forest Service released a comprehensive report on how increased population and land use development may threaten woodlands and their numerous benefits in the next 50 years.

According to the report, where regions choose to locate new residential and commercial development in the coming decades could have a big impact on the health of privately-owned forests, which we rely on to help provide clean drinking water, wildlife habit and outdoor recreation, among other benefits.

Forested land also helps remove pollutants from the air and sequester the carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.

While the amount of land currently under development or with the potential to be developed remains very small as a percentage of total U.S. land, many of the areas slated for building are both close to existing urban areas and likely to intersect with forests.

The report does not include policy recommendations, but it does point to areas where elected leaders may want to pursue a different course that betters conserves finite resources.

Most decisions about where to build rest with local governments, but their choices are heavily influenced by federal transportation, energy and housing policy. For example, a transition to more renewable fuels would reduce harmful emissions that put a strain on forests. More transportation options would ease traffic congestion and reduce the need for new highway construction. And, practical and affordable housing in more centralized locations would reduce the need for some new development in the outskirts of urban areas.

Local leaders may also begin to transition priorities themselves as their constituents advocate for woodlands and recreation for quality-of-life purposes.

How we allocate our land resources means a lot for America’s forests. With this report, policymakers and citizens can continue the discussion on how to best balance growth and conservation.

Looking back and looking forward in urban forestry

The Arbor Day Foundation was launched in 1972 during the tree-planting holiday’s centennial year. Much has happened in the 40 years since, and much work remains.

We have seen great progress, for example, in the spread of effective urban forest management. For many years, tree care at the municipal level was haphazard to non-existent. The standards and recognition of the Tree City USA program has helped to change that, due in large part to the partnership of the U.S. Forest Service and National Association of State Foresters.

The increased attention to urban trees care was alive at this year’s Partners in Community Forestry Conference, where a number of panelists pointed to street trees as central to creating great cities where people want to live.

In Richmond, California, and Baltimore, Maryland, and Camden, New Jersey, the beauty of newly-planted trees and community pride they inspire has strengthened neighborhoods and begun to put a dent in crime. Experts in planning and design say trees help attract new residents and commercial development. Trees are also central to the fight against climate change, with some communities finding innovative ways to include trees in cap-and-trade programs.

But urban forestry has also suffered from some setbacks. Heavy drought during the past two summers have killed or severely damaged millions of trees, with the U.S. Forest Service estimating that urban tree cover has been declining by 0.9 percent annually. Major storms have presented challenges for communities that contain both mature trees and above-ground power lines. And, declining resources have led some cities to pursue misguided policies that would transfer the responsibility for street trees from professionals to individual homeowners.

Solutions exist to all of these challenges, but they require continued management and resources. The Foundation will continue to advocate for both.

But some creativity may also be required. For example, rather than shifting tree care responsibility to people who not seek it, cities could follow the example of Chico, California, in pursuing voluntary tree care partnerships. With a declining tax base and abandoned neighborhoods, Detroit leaders opted for a controversial land purchase to allow for urban farming, an approach that has already found success in Chicago, Newark and elsewhere.

We look forward to your continued support and partnership as we continue to inspire people to plant, nurture and celebrate trees – both in our nation’s cities and throughout the country.

Push for dedicated tree care funding in San Francisco continues

Securing a dedicated funding source for San Francisco’s street trees was the subject of a Huffington Post piece by Supervisor Scott Wiener, whose advocacy this year has helped to elevate the importance of properly managing urban forests.

The issue was also the subject of a San Francisco Chronicle editorial, “S.F. needs to take care of its trees,” last month.

In the Huffington Post, Wiener points to the city’s common-sense tradition of forestry professionals caring for city-planted trees and private citizens caring for trees on their own property. But the shift of responsibility for about two-thirds of San Francisco’s 105,000 street trees upended that healthy balance.

“Unfortunately, common sense doesn’t always survive budget cuts,” Wiener wrote, adding that the responsibility was shifted to homeowners even if they “didn’t plant the tree, didn’t want the tree, or didn’t have the resources, desire or knowledge to care for them adequately.”

Policies like these are indeed an unwise and short-sighted approach to budgeting. Trees are a part of a city’s public infrastructure, just like roads, sewers and bridges – and no would one propose to shift responsibility for those matters to a piecemeal, household-to-household system.

“This haphazard maintenance system — requiring people who lack the resources or desire to be the primary stewards of our street trees — is a not a blueprint for a healthy urban forest,” Wiener adds.

He’s right – and we hope more voices will join him in calling for sustained funding sources for our urban forests, both in city by the bay and throughout the country.

Photo courtesy of Friends of the Urban Forest.

Northern California town explores voluntary tree care program

We have watched with great concern as a number of cities explore shifting responsibility for street tree care from professionals to homeowners.

It’s a shortsighted approach to budget cutting that deprives residents of the benefits of urban forests and ends up costing more later.

Fortunately, the issue – which often runs under the radar and off the front pages – has begun to receive the attention it deserves.

And, some cities are starting to look at creative alternatives. Rather than arbitrary staff reductions or indefinite shits in responsibility, what about some kind of voluntary hybrid?

That’s the approach being pursued by Chico (pictured above), a nature-filled and recreation-oriented Northern California town of 86,000 that is also home to one of the nation’s largest municipal parks.

According to the Chico Enterprise-Record, interested residents can receive a new maple or gingko tree free from the city in exchange for the promise to care for the newly-planted tree for at least three years. By empowering residents who want to participate, resources are freed up for the city’s more than 30,000 existing trees in need of pruning and care.

About two hundreds trees have been planted in the first two years of the program, city officials say.

It’s not a substitute for professional staff – and it remains unfortunate that Chico and cities throughout the country have endured so many layoffs – but it’s an option worth considering and perhaps emulating.

Tree culture makes the list for keys to stronger community

Numbering things has indeed become a tradition – some would say an overused one – in nonfiction writing, as Kaid Benfield points out, but it’s the content of said lists that should catch our attention rather their numeric ordering.

Writing for the Atlantic Cities, Benfield made note of a list – yes, a numbered one – produced by Scott Doyon, a principal at a respected planning firm, that surveyed the “seven keys to stronger community.”

While some scoff at the advice of planners and developers, they know what they’re talking about when it comes to what makes an area desirable.

One of Doyon’s items is parks and gardens. “For compact, walkable communities to thrive, they need contrast,” he wrote. “They need the intensity of human settlement to be offset by areas for recharge — both environmental and emotional.”

It’s an important point, and one more and more Americans are making by voting with their feet – they want to live in a community where the green balances out the gray.

Urban forestry is often lumped together with parks in discussions about community development, even though they sometimes meet different needs. Doyon, however, identifies tree culture as an item onto itself. His message: strong communities pursue the dual goals of protecting existing canopy while planting anew. A culture of trees also brings neighbors together and forms meaningful partnerships.

Benfield likes the list – though he would put trees and parks in the same category. He also made note of pushback from a reader who thought “good urbanism” was more important than green space.

From our perspective, it’s hard to picture any definition of positive urban development that doesn’t include a prominent role for parks and tree canopy. To be sure, other elements such as mixed-use development, transit options and proximity to jobs do a lot to bring people together and strengthen community. But to fully realize the benefits of new development – particularly, more dense projects in cities – trees cannot be dismissed.

Students plant trees at a Tree City Campus USA event at Georgia State University in Atlanta earlier this month.

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.