About Sean Barry

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

San Francisco supervisor seeks hearing on tree care

San Francisco boosts a healthy tree canopy and strong support for new tree planting. But the city’s urban forest is at risk due to a recent policy change that shifts responsible for street tree care from the Department of Public Works to property owners.

It’s a policy Supervisor Scott Wiener, one of the city’s eleven district-level representatives, hopes to address, according to the San Francisco Examiner.

There are currently close to 700,000 trees in San Francisco on public or private property; 110,000 of those are street trees that would be affected if the new policy is fully implemented. Because of budget cuts, city officials say they may only be able to prune those trees every 50 years, absent a new funding source.

As Supervisor Wiener points out, some property owners may be unwilling or lack the technical skills to take proper care of street trees, whose benefits are enjoyed broadly by the public. The Examiner quoted him as saying:

“We have hundreds of thousands of trees in the public realm in The City and it’s one of our greatest assets. It makes our city green, cleans our air and beautifies our streets. Yet, for a number of years, budget cuts have severely reduced DPW and Rec and Park’s urban forestry budget and their ability to maintain these trees.”

Declining resources for tree care is a problem facing cities across the country, even when local officials recognize the importance of investment in pruning and care. To fill the revenue hole, Wiener has suggested the potential for a small parcel tax, though a public hearing offers the opportunity for other solutions to be explored as well.

Photo is © Ingrid Taylar

Relationship between trees and neighborhood affluence offers important lessons for local leaders

A U.S. Forest Service survey of the San Francisco Bay Area found that neighborhoods with robust communities trees are usually more economically prosperous than areas lacking in trees.

Trees are scant in lower-income West Oakland and plentiful in affluent Piedmont just four miles away, according to the San Jose Mercury News. A similar contrast is evident when comparing Palo Alto to East Palo Alto in the South Bay.

“If you have a tree-lined street, people are more likely to shop there,” said Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “If you have a tree-lined street, property values go up. … The more trees we have, the cleaner the air.”

Tidwell, a good friend of the Foundation, was in the Bay Area in person last month to announce a grant worth $181,000 for the locally-based Urban Releaf, which has planted more than 10,000 trees in Oakland and Richmond and recruits young people to help.

The Mercury-News also cites the work of environmental writer Tim De Chant, whose use of satellite images present a stark portrait of what he calls “Income equality, as seen from space.”

Of course, planting trees is just the beginning. In order to survive, urban trees require continued maintenance and care, an area where resource-starved cities often fall short. This is a question of long-term priorities and investment that local decision-makers across the country must face. San Francisco’s decision to shift the responsibility for tree care to property owners is an example of a troubling step in the wrong direction, one which we hope will be halted as the economy continues to recover and municipalities reclaim some of their lost revenue base.

Image: USDA via Bay Area News Group

Nebraska and Iowa to continue funding recreational trails

UPDATE: All but two states have chosen to continue funding recreational trails, according to Streetsblog.

We’re a little bit late to this story, but thought it was worth mentioning that officials in Nebraska and Iowa have chosen to continue to funding recreational trails for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Why is this important? Two reasons: 1) Recreational space that allows people to enjoy time outdoors is crucial to the Foundation’s vision of green and livable communities; and 2) The new federal transportation law has shifted more discretion over trails funding to the states, so it’s a topic likely to come up in your area even if you don’t live in Nebraska or Iowa.

Lincoln, the home of Arbor Day Foundation headquarters, boosts an extensive and popular trail network that expands 128 miles into rural Lancaster County and a number of neighboring communities. It surely didn’t hurt that Lincoln is also the state capital, meaning key decision-makers in the Department of Roads and the Governor’s office have seen the value of the trails firsthand.

According to the Omaha World-Herald, bicycle enthusiasts in both states lobbied heavily to keep the funding from being diverted to other projects, which is now allowed under the new federal transportation law, MAP-21:

Rick Sanders, president of the 85-member Bellevue Bike Club, said he is grateful. Members of his club, as well as other bicyclers, had lobbied to retain the state programs, as well as federal funding.

“We’re probably one of the most fiscally conservative states in the Union,” Sanders said. “Having our governor step up for trails is good for the cause.”

According to the Great Plains Trails Network, every dollar spent on trails in Lincoln yields nearly $3 in medical savings due to healthier living. The trails also increase property values by up to 20 percent, a similar figure to the estimated increase associated with a robust tree canopy.

Photo courtesy of the Great Plains Trails Network.

Foundation and Texas partners launch campaign to restore Lost Pines Forest destroyed in Bastrop fire

Earlier this morning, we joined key Texas partners in launching the Lost Pines Forest Recovery Campaign, a multi-year public-private partnership to raise money to plant more than 4 million trees on public and private land.

Dan Lambe, the Foundation’s vice president of programs, attended and spoke at today’s event in Bastrop State Park, the nucleus of the September 2011 fire that destroyed more homes than any other in state history and raged through 95 percent of the park’s 6,600 acres.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Texas A&M Forest Service are serving as on-the-ground partners in the five-year replanting effort. Both were crucial to making today’s launch happen.

The Lost Pines ecosystem includes more than 75,000 acres of loblolly pines scattered across sections of five Texas counties. It is a precious natural resource for Texans and the state’s visitors, and we’re honored to be a part of restoring it.

The Foundation is taking the lead on fundraising for what is expected to be a $4 million effort. So far, we have secured commitments from Mary Kay, Inc., FedEx, Chili’s Grill and Bar, Nokia and Apache Corporation, and we’re looking forward to adding even more corporate sponsors to the list.

We still need you help to restore the Lost Pines forest to pre-disaster condition. You can donate today at arborday.org/texas.

Carter Smith,Texas Parks and Wildlife Department executive director, summed up the need well when he said “no one entity has the resources to do it all alone, but we’re fortunate that people care deeply about natural treasures like the Lost Pines and Bastrop State Park.”

He added: “Bringing back the trees is an essential step to restore the region’s ecological lifeblood. If we each donate a little, together we can do a great deal.”

Learn more about the Lost Pines Forest Recovery Campaign and make a donation today.

UPDATE: Here is the Foundation’s Dan Lambe (far right) watering longleaf loblolly seedling with other speakers, dignitaries and corporate sponsors in Bastrop State Park this morning. Additional photos are available from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Left to right: Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp, Texas State Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt, Carter Smith (Texas Parks and Wildlife), Dan Lambe

Long Beach, California, may include urban trees in cap-and-trade program

Long Beach, the seventh largest city in California, is a considering seeking carbon credits for the greenhouse gas offsetting power of its trees as part of the state’s new cap-and-trade program.

If successful, Long Beach officials would use the “carbon credits” to fund continued maintenance and care for the city’s existing trees, a major boost during a time of tight budgets. The Press-Telegram, a local newspaper, has reported that Long Beach faces a $17.2 million deficit and faces potential cuts to its tree care program of more than $200,000.

According to Reuters Point Carbon:

Long Beach Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske said Tuesday she will ask the city’s office of sustainability to review her proposal to enroll its urban forest as an offset project that can supply credits to California’s carbon market.

Planting and maintaining forests in urban areas is one of four ways emitters can offset their greenhouse gas output, according to California’s cap-and-trade regulations.

It is exciting to see communities find innovative ways to preserve their urban forests and mitigate the impact of climate change.

The full article is available here. Reuters notes that Santa Monica, a beachfront community also located in Southern California, has already made a similar request.

Photo Credit: City-Data

Heat and drought taking a toll on trees in Nebraska, other states

Heat and drought have made this summer one of the toughest in memory for urban trees, and the evidence is especially visible here in Nebraska, home of the original Arbor Day.

According to the Nebraska Forest Service, long dry-spells can be especially damaging, even for mature trees that have survived harsh conditions in the past.

The Grand Island Independent reported on the problem and what Nebraskans can do to alleviate the strain earlier this week. Of course, these same principles apply to struggling trees throughout the country.

Woody plants across the state are also suffering from continued heat and drought. Nebraskans should pay particular attention to trees and shrubs and thoroughly water them if they begin to show signs of leaf wilt, discoloration or drying, especially at leaf edges, said Amy Seiler of the Nebraska Forest Service.

“A dry winter, minimal spring rains, record high temperatures and low summer precipitation have put extreme stress on trees this summer,” Seiler said

The uptick is temperature also makes certain trees more susceptible to infestation and disease, both as a result of the tree’s weakened state and the ability of more pests to survive warmer winters. The emerald ash borer, one of the worst pests confronting urban trees, is already getting closer to the Nebraska border.

Fortunately, with the right attention and watering, many endangered trees can be saved.

The Foundation has a number of resources on tree planting and care. They can be accessed here.

Enterprise to run ad during Olympics touting 50-Million Tree Pledge, partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation

When you tune in for the 2012 London Olympics starting tomorrow, keep an eye out for an advertisement from Enterprise Holdings, the parent company of Enterprise Rent-A-Car, that features their 50-Million-Tree Pledge.

The pledge is an aggressive, multi-year partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation and the U.S. Forest Service to plant 50 million trees in high-need national and state forests. Nearly seven million trees have been planted so far.

The newly-planted trees are crucial to protecting wildlife habitat, recreational benefits and clean water for millions of Americans.

Enterprise has been one of the Foundation’s stand-out corporate partners, and we look forward to continuing the relationship for decades to come.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the company’s hometown newspaper, reported on the ad buy this week, noting that the spot is slated to run from July 27 through August 12, including during closing ceremonies.

The full story includes an early viewing of the 60-second spot, which contains gorgeous footage of national forests. A shorter 30-second spot will also be in rotation. Learn more about the 50-Million Tree Pledge here.

Better care can help urban trees survive drought, Texas report says

Earlier this year, a report from the Texas Forest Service found that 5.6 million urban trees in the state had been lost as a result of drought. A new companion report from the state’s AgriLife Extension presents a more complicated picture, arguing that many of the dead trees suffered from pre-existing stress.

On the surface, the new report would seem to be discouraging. Drought is, after all, an easy culprit. But in explaining the other factors that led to massive tree loss, the report also provides a guidepost for what to do differently next time.

Both the AgriLife Extension and Forest Service are part of the Texas A&M University system.

According to the report by Dr. Eric Taylor, a forestry specialist, most of the trees that died were already strained due to factors like overcrowding, growing on the wrong side, age, problems with the soil or use of inappropriate herbicides.

That means that a more proactive approach to tending urban trees during the year can help them weather and often survive the drought.

As Taylor put it: “Our best defense against drought is to promote a tree’s health and vigor through proper care and management.”

Taylor is no way discounts the importance of water to tree’s life and health – but he does want people know that trees can be better prepared for times when water is scarce.

In addition to proper pruning and maintenance of existing trees, many communities are also making sure to diversify the species they plant. Introducing new species has been critical in the fight against the emerald ash borer and other pests that can devastate urban forests.

Read more about the report here.

USA Today column stresses solutions on urban trees and power outages

A column published in yesterday’s USA Today offers important insight in the ongoing discussion about urban trees, power and natural disasters.

Writer Laura Vanderkam reached out to the Foundation two weeks ago concerning solutions to the danger of urban trees falling on power lines during heavy storms. At that time, millions of households in the Washington, DC, region remained without power, weathering 100-degree days and uncertainty about when service would be restored.

Trees are an easy villain when they fall during a storm, but as Vanderkam points out, they also help utilities keep the lights on by lowering peak demand through the shading affect during particularly hot days.

Vanderkam told me she was writing a solutions-oriented column, and that’s precisely what she did. Citing the Arbor Day Foundation’s “Right Tree in the Right Place” principle, she notes that utilities are already seeing positive results from proactive pruning and a smart strategy for where to plant in the first place. According to her reporting:

After the hurricanes of 2004, the Orlando Utilities Commission in Florida did something similar, working with the city to plant tall trees away from lines and shorter trees under them. Result?

“Our reliability statistics have continued to climb,” says Wayne Zimmerman, manager of construction and maintenance. Costs are stable. “And we still have a beautiful tree canopy.”

That’s good for cash-strapped cities — and for anyone amazed, after the recent storm, how people lived through summers before AC.

That’s the kind of solution we can get behind, and the Foundation will continue to urge utilities to innovate and improve best practices in tree care. I wrote about the Foundation’s perspective in greater detail in a blog post last Tuesday.

Trees an unfair culprit for power outages, but more can be done to prepare

Power outages and blackouts tied to late June thunderstorms in the Washington, DC, region have finally come to an end.

The raging storms – coupled with sweltering 100+ degree heat – left more than 2.5 million people without power. A handful of casualties were reported, with property damage spanning Maryland to West Virginia.

While the response of area utility providers has dominated the headlines, some have also cited the larger trees that knocked over power grids, blocked streets, and in some cases, damaged cars and homes. People have asked: are trees to blame for the loss of power? Could more have been done to protect people in their homes?

Trees are an unfair culprit. But there is a need for improvement in the pruning, management and care of urban trees, both in the DC region and throughout the country.

Due diligence is required to prepare urban trees for natural disasters, while recognizing that some damage cannot be anticipated. It is also critical to acknowledge the enormous benefits of trees to cities and towns.

One of those key benefits is the shading of homes, an area of increasing importance to utility providers like Entergy, which serves 2.8 million customers in Texas, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana. The shade from mature, well-placed trees reduces household energy use by as much as 30 percent, allowing companies like Entergy to meet peak demand during hot summer months. The shading effect saves customers on their monthly bills too.

Entergy is among the 145 utility providers currently recognized by the Arbor Day Foundation as a Tree Line USA in honor of its commitment to proper tree planting, pruning and care. The program provides a baseline standard for providers, but as with the Foundation’s other programs, we encourage participants to exceed the core requirements and continually seek best practices in their service areas.

More and more utilities are seeing proper tree pruning and care as both good business and common sense. Healthy urban trees help with storm water management and reduce strain on infrastructure. They also absorb the carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to climate change. One utility executive described investment in trees to us as a risk management tool, akin to homeowners buying fire insurance for their house. This is especially pertinent as climate change leads to more volatile weather patterns,

It is because of these benefits that the Foundation advocates for preserving mature trees in conjunction with new development. These trees often yield the greatest benefits, in addition to their aesthetic and quality-of-life contributions. But they also pose risks. Many of the trees that fell during last month’s storm were older and strained by urban environments. We encourage municipalities and utilities to take extra care to maintain these trees and adopt established pruning cycles. And, when a tree becomes unsafe, it ought to be removed and replaced with native species that fit with the surrounding community.

While some disasters cannot be prevented, trees can and should be part of the solution rather than the problem. And they will be if they continue to receive the care and attention they deserve.