Morton winner Kemba Shakur plants trees, improves lives

Urban ReLeaf executive director Kemba Shakur was in Nebraska City this past weekend to accept the Foundation’s J. Sterling Morton Award for her lifelong commitment to tree planting and conservation.

Shakur was one of 14 individuals, organizations and companies honored during the 41st annual Arbor Day Awards.

While much of Shakur’s impact is felt locally in Oakland, California, and surrounding communities, her influence on urban forestry has reached a national audience.

She started planting trees because her West Oakland neighborhood hardly had any — and she saw an immediate connection between the absence of greenery and the area’s struggles with crime, unemployment and pollution. Her experience working as a prison guard showed her what can happen to young people who don’t have enough positive influences and activities in their neighborhoods.

Shakur kept planting, in her front yard, on her block, in her neighborhood and eventually throughout the City of Oakland – block by block, turning “concrete jungle into a green oasis.” In the process, she created jobs and volunteer opportunities for young people, giving them the tools to give back to their own communities.

During Saturday’s awards ceremony, Shakur stressed that planting trees in cities is shovel ready, low-budget and able to make a real difference in people’s lives.

“Now is our time,” she said, of the urban forestry movement. She also shared a brief poem connecting young trees with the triumph of the human spirit:

There’s a tree that grows in Oakland.
It’s not just any trees, it’s a poor man’s tree.
It’s a tree that grows out of cracks in the sidewalk,
and out of abandoned lots, or discarded tires,
and if you cut off its trunk, it’ll just come back.
To behold such a tree is a magnificent sight,
trees that survive no matter what.

Shakur’s work caught the attention of NBC Bay Area, which profiled her in advance of receiving this year’s award. You can view the segment below.

San Francisco divide over non-native eucalyptus highlights urban forest challenges

While this space is not meant for resolving local disputes, the trade-offs cities face in urban forest management often yield insight for others.

628x471 (1)The debate in San Francisco over the fate of largely-invasive species in the 61-acre Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve, is one of those cases.

The culprit is the eucalyptus, a non-native tree that offers a towering and majestic forest at the heart of the city – and severe headaches to neighboring University of California San Francisco, the landowner.

Leave it alone, say some nearby residents, citing the forest as a special reprieve from a dense metropolis. Cut (many) of the trees down, reply UCSF officials, citing infestation and the danger of fallen limbs and fire hazards.

UCSF has plans to replace the eucalyptus with native trees and grasses. A “leave things as they are” attitude that downplays management could amplify problems later. Some residents agree.

Divides over non-native species are not new. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, a neighbor in nearby Marin County sued a neighbor to force removal of a eucalyptus after warnings from an arborist. Current and prospective Arbor Day Foundation members often inquire about whether the trees we ship are invasives – and sometimes what is thought to be invasive is in fact a related species that adapts much better.

A recent op-ed in the Chronicle seeks a broader perspective. Asks Joel Engardio: why should the city take on an expensive forest overhaul when the buses aren’t running on-time and parks are overdue for maintenance? It’s not clear from the reporting whether taxpayers or UCSF would foot the bill for the project, but perhaps the broader point still resonates.

Engardio says: by all means, take down individual trees that pose a threat. But can land management be done in a piecemeal way? Is what UCSF proposes too far-reaching?

Cities grow and change, as so forests. Questions like these are the inevitable result of that change.

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Images courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle

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.

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.

Two fall Tree Campus USA events down, three left to go

Earlier this month, the Foundation was in Boulder, where students and staff at the University of Colorado experienced the challenges and opportunities of urban forestry first-hand, planting 40 laurel oaks along the interface between the campus and a major city thoroughfare.

On Monday, we were in the Valley Glen neighborhood of the San Fernando Valley to plant trees at Los Angeles Valley College, the first community college and first Southern California institution to participate in the Tree Campus USA program.

The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, or AASHE, helped with the event, which resulted in 30 new trees on the north mall of the urban campus.

The Foundation will be in Dover, Delaware, for a tree planting at Delaware State University on Tuesday, October 30. LaSalle University in Philadelphia will plant trees on November 1, and Georgia State University in Atlanta will hold their event November 10.

These events are terrific way for current or future Tree Campus USA participants to step up their commitment to conservation and give service-minded students a chance to roll up their sleeves and do something positive for the campus community. We appreciate having Toyota as a continued partner in our effort to grow the next generation of environmental stewards.

We hope, too, that these events will inspire even more colleges and universities to take the steps needed to qualify for Tree Campus USA as we begin accepting applications for 2012.

Information on First-year applications and recertifications is available here.

We put this video about the University of Pennsylvania together after an event there in 2010.

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

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

California and New Mexico celebrate Arbor Week, Arbor Day

Californians have celebrated Arbor Week from March 7th through 14th for many years. In addition to being an ideal time for planting, the 7th marks the birthday of pioneering California horticulturalist Luther Burbank, who helped develop dozens of fruit, vegetable and flower varieties.

California Arbor Week, however, was not officially recognized by the State Legislature until last year’s passage of Assembly Concurrent Resolution 10. The measure acknowledges March 7th through 14th as Arbor Week for 2011 and each year thereafter, as well as encourages Californians to plant trees and participate in local conservation efforts.

The resolution was introduced by Assemblymember Roger Dickinson, who hails from the state’s tree-friendly capital Sacramento, pictured above.

“(Trees) help us make our communities more attractive by their aesthetics, but they’re also good for saving energy, for boosting our economy, for maintaining property values, so trees have many many enormous contributions to make to our urban landscape, as well as of course our wildland and forestland trees,” Dickinson said.

California is currently home to 141 Tree City USA communities, accounting for a total population of nearly 17 million people. The largest Tree City USA is Los Angeles, population 3.9 million; the smallest is Weed, population 3,000.

California ReLeaf, a state non-profit, played an important role in both supporting last year’s resolution and raising awareness about ways to get involved in Arbor Week activities.

The celebration was lower-key in New Mexico, where Arbor Day is recognized on the second Friday of March – this year, falling on Friday the 9th. The Albuquerque Journal’s Nancy Tipton, a Nebraska native, said while Arbor Day is a “big deal” in her home state, in New Mexico it’s “a little less so.”

New Mexico is currently home to 12 Tree City USA communities, accounting for 746,921 people. The largest Tree City USA is Albuquerque, population 484,246; the smallest is San Jon, population 308.

 

Parks superintendent in Redding, CA an evangelist for community trees

It’s Arbor Week in California, and Redding – a medium-sized city in the Northern reaches of the state – is celebrating by giving away 800 frees trees and shrubs to community members.

Redding is in its 31st year as a Tree City USA. The city-run energy provider, Redding Electric Utility, is an 18-year Tree Line USA, in recognition of its commitment to managing trees effectively.

Paul Anderson, the city’s parks superintendent, wrote in an op-ed this week that Redding planted more than 195,000 trees last year, and plans to plant even more in 2012.

“I consider myself lucky to live in a city that has such a commitment to the environment and to the preservation and continued activity of planting new trees in the community,” he wrote in the Record-Searchlight. “Tree planting is at an all-time high in California.”

The Sacramento River Trail provides a scenic experience for Redding residents and visitors seeking outdoor activities like walking, biking and boating. The photo above features the view from a café at Turtle Bay Exploration Park, which is accessible by the trail.

Anderson said he has seen the direct benefit of trees first-hand, and hopes to continue to convince others of their enduring value.

The majority of the public is not against trees; they are indifferent. They shouldn’t be. Study after study links urban greenery with improved public health, fewer people are overweight, residents are more likely to be more active, children have reduced symptoms of ADD and asthma, and stress levels in all residents are lower.

With local leaders like Anderson, we’re confident that California will have plenty to celebrate for many Arbor Weeks to come.

Photo courtesy of American Trails.