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.

Tree-planting in Richmond improves public safety through beautification

Trees are being planted in Richmond, California faster than landscape architects can track, count, and map to assess the city’s further arbor needs.

Photo Credit: Richmond Confidential

Over the past month alone, scores of volunteers have come together to plant more than one hundred trees in Richmond soil.

In exchange for learning proper planting practices and weekly watering efforts, the Richmond community is rewarded with shade, increased property value, reduced pollution, slowing traffic, and lower crime.

For a community that has struggled with crime over the years, these benefits are significant. In a recent news article, Richmond’s Police Chief Chris Magnus commended young volunteers for improving community and neighborhood safety through beautification. Magnus advocates:

An attractive neighborhood enhanced by the natural beauty of trees sends a message that the people who live there care and are engaged with what’s going on around them. This helps decrease crime and improves safety for all residents.

Research has linked increased tree-planting to decreased crime rates in other communities as well. Baltimore, Md., experienced a 12 percent drop in crime after a ten percent tree canopy increase and neighborhoods in Camden, N.J., are now considered highly desirable places to live thanks to newly-planted trees.

Photo Credit: Richmond Confidential

The benefits of tree planting extend from a broad environmental level to a personal, human level as well. Richmond volunteers express a sense of pride and ownership seeing trees in the community that exist thanks to their planting efforts. A student volunteer described the satisfaction of walking past trees she planted at a local high school as, “I did that, that’s my tree.”

Richmond Parks and Recreation officials honor volunteers for their individual roles as “guardian of the forest,” encouraging them to cherish the positive impact each person’s efforts has on the city of Richmond.

After receiving a $10,000 grant over the summer, tree-planting groups and volunteers in Richmond are continuing to positively change the future of the city, improving the social and environmental state of the community by planting trees.

Op-ed pages sound the alarm on proposals to downplay tree care professionals

Facing tight budgets and reduced staff, a number of cities around the country have either floated or are already moving forward with troubling proposals to shift the responsibility for tree care from professionals to homeowners.

By downplaying the numerous benefits of urban trees and putting their care in uncertain hands, these ideas are the textbook definition of penny-wise and pound-foolish. Even responsible homeowners willing and able to do the right thing lack the bargaining power and strategic decision-making ability that is only possible through a comprehensive, citywide approach.

The Foundation’s home here in Lincoln is one community where this is being considered, prompting founder and chief executive John Rosenow to submit this op-ed to the Lincoln Journal Star.

Confronting similar challenges, the San Francisco Chronicle weighed in with a Saturday editorial imploring city leaders to find the money to take care of street trees and criticizing the decision to shift responsibility for 1,200 trees to homeowners:

This policy requires homeowners to maintain trees they didn’t plant, might not even want, possibly can’t afford and probably don’t know how to care for.

The result could spell disaster for the city’s forest. Already, around 4 percent of our trees die every year because of age or lack of proper attention. The city employs only six arborists, down from 19 four years ago. That’s fewer than one trained worker for every 17,000 trees.

The Chronicle also surveyed several ideas for new revenue.

In Sunday’s Journal Star, Rosenow pointed to the Foundation’s experience growing the Tree City USA program into more than 3,400 communities over 36 years. We’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. He also noted that Lincoln’s experience serves as direct evidence of the need for a professional approach:

A well-staffed professional forestry team was crucial to protecting tree canopy and minimizing property damage during Lincoln’s early-fall snow storm in 1997. Other cities sustained much greater damage by banking on a penny-wise and pound-foolish approach that downplayed the importance of professionals — and the damage remains visible today.

Civic and business leaders in Lincoln have recently stepped up marketing toward young professionals and employers. Rosenow concluded:

Increasingly, jobs and the companies and professionals who create jobs are highly mobile. The successful cities of the future will be those who recruit and retain the best jobs by creating an outstanding quality of life for its citizens — including a well-managed urban forest. We would hope that Lincoln will be such a city.

We’re pleased to see the issue of tree care – often lost in budget discussions, as San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener and others have pointed out – begin to receive the attention it deserves. We look forward to being part of the continued discussion, both here at home and throughout the country.

Time Magazine surveys tree care, Foundation’s Storm Recovery Kit offers post-Sandy guidance

Last week, Dominique Browning penned “When Trees Become Lethal” for Time Magazine’s Ideas blog.

But the title only tells half the story. 

We know that severe storms like Hurricane Sandy take a toll on community trees, putting our safety and property at risk. As Browning points out, though, it is important that the discussion about urban forestry not end there.

Rather, she asks what we can do to take better care of our trees, both to minimize risk and fully enjoy their enormous benefits. It’s a question of healtcare for trees and planting viability, she says.

On tree health, she cites regular pruning and maintenance, as well as hiring professionals when help is needed. Hiring cheap assistance from people without the proper credentials is a mistake. On viability, it’s all about planting the right tree in the right place. Roots need the space to grow, and trees that tower over homes and utility lines put power and property at risk during disasters.

She concludes with this:

We need to learn how to better live with our trees and move away from our simplistic understanding of them. Yes, trees are pretty and useful but they’re also a responsibility that too often people shirk. We’re well aware that cars can be dangerous and take safety precautions not to drive recklessly or in risky conditions. We have to show similar respect to these giant, powerful beings around us. They do so much for us. Let’s do more for them.

It’s a sentiment the Foundation fully shares. Many communities affected by Hurricane Sandy are still dealing with the basics – restoring power, dealing with property damage and looking after personal health and safety. But we know that as the transition to long-term recover continues, many questions remain about how to handle damaged or broken trees. If you’re seeking resources, check out our Storm Recovery Kit, which includes both written materials and videos.

We can take care of our urban forest – and effectively recover from this tragedy, while better preparing for the next one.

Photo courtesy of the National Weather Service.

East Coast members and readers: Stay safe

As we write from Lincoln this morning, Hurricane Sandy is already producing sustained winds at 90 miles-per-hour and has made its way toward the New Jersey Coast. The Federal Government in Washington, DC, has closed, and New York City public transportation systems are being halted.

The National Weather Service is a good resource for up-to-date information.

A handful of Foundation programs and events have been affected. In consultation with university officials, we chose to cancel a Tree Campus USA planting ceremony scheduled for tomorrow morning at Delaware State University. We have also postponed our Wednesday tree planting event at LaSalle University in Philadelphia. Customers of Pepco, Delmarva Power and Atlantic City Electric hoping to participate in the Energy-Saving Trees program will likely encounter delays as utilities direct their focus toward limiting outages.

Our biggest concern is for the safety and well-being of our members and readers.

As we pointed out in the aftermath of heavy storms in June, aging and poorly-maintained trees can quickly become a threat to safety and property. We strongly encourage residents in the eye of the storm to stay alert for updates from local officials and utilities about all hazards.

Our focus at the Foundation continues to be making sure municipalities, utility providers and residents have the resources and plans in place to effectively manage and care for urban trees, in order to be as prepared as possible for future disasters. Routine pruning can and does prevent damage during disasters, while preserving the enormous benefits of street trees that would be lost if they were removed altogether.

In the meantime, we’re keeping our friends on the East Coast in our thoughts.

Leading urban design expert says tree canopy “makes all the difference” for fighting climate change

America’s cities have many tools for combating climate change and reducing the heat island effect – but leading urban designer and author Peter Calthorpe told the PBS NewsHour that nothing comes close to cooling effect of well-maintained street trees.

“You can do white roofs and green roofs, but believe me, it’s that street canopy that makes all the difference,” Calthorpe (right) said, in a wide-ranging interview on cities, conducted during the Aspen Environment Forum.

Speaking more broadly about trends in urban design, Calthorpe said that we are “returning to some timeless qualities,” with demographic and cultural shifts causing Americans to take another look at more urban lifestyle.

Policies over the last several decades helped build the middle class, but also fueled dependence on the automobile and increased suburban sprawl, Calthorpe says, and some of those trends have begun to reverse as a result of the housing bubble bursting.

“It’s not that everybody is going to move back to the city. That’s a little bit of a misnomer that people get very excited about,” he said, adding: “We need to rethink how we build our cities, so it can’t be this ‘one-size-fits-all’ paradigm that we’ve had for so long.”

Calthorpe cites Sacramento as a city that is moving in the right direction, pointing in part to a tree canopy that reduces temperature in forested areas by as much as 10 degrees, a point few who have spent time in Sacramento would dispute.

Regardless of the local context, citizens and policymakers trying to bring people back into cities are encouraged to make urban forestry central to their cause.

“You can’t have a great street without street trees,” Calthorpe concluded.

100-year-old oak tree relocated instead of destroyed

The saying, “Out with the old, in with the new” usually signifies a refreshing change.  In some cases, however, the “old” should be treasured.

Photo Credit: Grist.org

Instead of cutting down a hundred-year-old oak tree to make room for improvements, the city council in League City, Texas voted to relocate the tree 1,500 feet from its original location to neighboring parkland.

It took contractors just under a month to properly prepare and transport the 56-foot tree weighing nearly 260 tons to its new location.

The process involved pruning, fertilizing, and hydrating the oak tree, sampling soil, and creating a large, hand carved, planter-box at the base of the tree to contain and protect its roots.

Photo Credit: Leaguecity.com

Once the tree box was completed, four steel beams were placed underneath the box and two cranes lifted the apparatus onto a steel plate.  It took three bulldozers and two excavators to then pull and guide the oak tree along a grass corridor to its home.

Moving can cause a lot of stress for a tree but so far, the old oak tree has been doing well in its new location.

Older trees are often mistakenly labeled as hazard trees and subsequently chopped down.  In a public place such as a park, it is the responsibility of city officials or tree  managers to exercise care, good judgment, caution, and foresight when inspecting trees and determining them necessary for removal.

By relocating, instead of destroying a healthy, older tree, League City shows its commitment to its urban forest and has honored the value and history that trees bring to a community.

You can read more about moving the 100-year-old oak here.

Check out the incredible video of the moving process below.

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