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A national urban forests policy: it's about time!

AFA wouldn't exist if it weren't for its role in shaping national forest policy. The need for national policies regarding forests was why AFA's founding fathers joined together 1 14 years ago to form a citizen's action group. Today,

AFA continues that role-both in modifying traditional forest policy and in striving for a less traditional but no less needed policy-national urban forestry policy.

Less than a decade after initiating its urban forestry program, AFA has won the battle and convinced Congress to pass a national urban forestry policy. Now for the rest of the war: getting the appropriations to fund these policies that will affect up to 90 percent of the U.S. population now living in towns and cities. The fact that the urban forestry effort might be seen as a building block in a larger movement to develop a wide-ranging national policy to deal with global warming, another of AFA's priorities, might be just the right ammunition. Stay tuned.

It has been the American Forestry Association's glory and misfortune that it has always sought to develop and promote balanced forestry policies. Right from its beginning in 1875, when a group of farsighted nurserymen, doctors, lawyers, professors, and other interested citizens founded the organization, AFA has sought to find sensible ways to preserve and extend all the benefits of trees and forests to as many Americans as possible.

That tradition continues today, as AFA seeks a middle ground between the "Timber Beasts," who would cut everything in sight and the "Tree Huggers," who sometimes seem to believe that cutting any tree is inherently evil. The role AFA has played for over a century is not a safe one. Like someone standing in the center of a busy intersection trying to help direct traffic, it is easy to get sideswiped by those going rapidly in one direction or the other. But AFA has persisted in seeking to foster the development of sensible policies to balance the needs of all significant interests and all major forest users and lovers.

In this effort AFA has been remarkably successful. Its earliest policy initiatives led to the establishment of our National Parks and Forests. Presently, AFA is promoting sensible policies for wide-ranging recreational forest uses and for the preservation and sensitive management of old-growth stands. Indeed, much of the content of AMERICAN CAN FORESTS magazine over the decades has helped AFA stimulate rational debate and build a consensus for good forest policies. I, for one, think AFA has achieved far more than what can be expected from an organization of AFA's size and limited resources. It has stood up to Timber Beasts and Tree Huggers alike. It has worked hard to mediate between the extremes and to mobilize the larger and more rational center.

But until recently AFA's successes were mainly "out in the woods." The nurserymen, industrialists, and other "tree planters" who founded AFA (in 1875 our forests were being rapidly decimated and replanting was an important priority for AFA's founders) focused their policies and energies on our rural forests. That tradition has been continued at AFA, as major national forestry policies have been adopted over the last century. Debate continues on these policies, as it should. And those policies will be adjusted for every aspect of traditional forestry, with AFA continuing to lead the way. The point is: we have national policies for the forests we generally think of when the phrase American forests is mentioned.

But there is another large group of forests for which there is no effective national policy. I refer, of course, to our urban forests. The urban forests have immense value and significance, not just to Tree Huggers but to those concerned with energy conservation, global warming trends, mental health of our citizenry, vitality of our center cities, water and air pollution, and a host of other highly significant values and issues. As I said not long ago when I testified before a Congressional committee, "These are the forests where 90 percent of Americans-90 percent of the voters-spend most of their lives.

Our urban forests are threatened by the urban equivalent of Timber Beasts: developers who find it cheaper to bulldoze trees than to protect them; some engineers and street maintenance people who think the only good tree is a dead tree; and planners and budget officers who think that since only God can make a tree, He can jolly well take care of it, too ! I cannot take the space here to expound on all the virtues and values of our urban forests and the threats they face. That is being ably done elsewhere in this issue and in other AFA publications, and will be addressed at length at the Urban Forestry Conference in St. Louis in October. Instead, I wish to focus on urban forestry policy designed to procure the benefits that healthy urban forests afford us.

Urban forests do not fall into the three major categories of interest in our rural forests: wilderness protection, timber supply, and recreation. So until recently the urban forest has been overlooked in the efforts to develop national forest policy.

In this area, as with so many other forestry issues, AFA has led the way. About 10 years ago AFA began to emphasize the need for sensible, effective policies directed at the forests in which most Americans spend most of their lives. AFA realized the importance of urban dwellers understanding urban trees. Ninety percent of the voters will have a great influence on national policy, including forest policy, so it is important that urbanites know what good forest policy involves.

In 1979 I attended my first AFA convention and presented a speech to AFA members about what was then an unconventional topic: urban forestry. I told those members assembled in Charleston, South Carolina, of the successes of a $100 million combined state and local effort in Minnesota to slow Dutch elm disease and oak wilt and to replant trees in our cities and towns. In the years following the Charleston convention, other stories of significant local efforts began to emerge. People from many areas talked with AFA leaders about the need to develop a national policy, and AFA's Officers and Directors took the lead in creating an organized effort to reach that goal.

The interest in a national consensus on urban forests continued to grow with the first widely attended National Urban Forestry Conference in Cincinnati in 1982, sponsored by AFA. (Actually, there was a prior conference in Washington, DC, in 1978 but it was for professionals and had little citizen input of the kind that has been vital to AFA since its founding.) Over 400 people met in Cincinnati and went away with a clear feeling that their local problems were not much different from the problems faced across the country. They also went away committed to forge a national consensus. AFA increased its emphasis on "the forests where we live" in the years between the Cincinnati conference and the much larger Third Urban Forestry Conference in Orlando, Florida, in 1986. About 600 people from across the nation reviewed the philosophies and practicalities of our urban forests and began to focus on ways to increase national emphasis on the expanding problems of our urban forests.

Following the 1986 Conference, AFA pulled together the emerging national leaders in urban forestry into the National Urban Forestry Council. It also began to work with politicians who were becoming aware of the problems as well as the opportunities presented by urban forests across the nation. As these leaders talked with each other, it became painfully clear that we are in the same situation with our urban forests today as our ancestors were with our rural forests in the 1870s. That was when Dr. John Aston Warder, Judge J.G. Knapp, Prof. Charles Lacy, Rev. Elbridge Gale, and other concerned citizens met to form the AFA in an effort to reverse the decline of our rural forests.

Today, cities are losing four trees for each one planted. The places where trees grow are becoming increasingly inhospitable, not unlike the eroded rural hillsides raped by Timber Beasts in the 1870s. Uncaring, unconcerned citizens and governmental officials are treating urban forest values today like the governments and citizens treated our rural forests a century ago; they are refusing to spend any significant public money on urban forests. Localized pollution, tree diseases, and a whole host of other problems are on the increase. Global warming will affect our cities and towns the most because they are already "heat islands" in a world that many scientists believe is steadily heating up.

Concerned citizens and professionals will assemble again, this time in St. Louis in October, to consider the problems of our urban forests-just as the concerned citizens who founded AFA met in Chicago in 1875. Today, the big questions are: Can we reverse the general decline of our urban forests? Will there be a national urban forestry policy? What will be the elements of such a policy?

It is with great pleasure that I am able to report that the outlines of a consensus on national urban forestry policy are beginning to emerge. Farsighted members of the United States Congress, like Representatives Jim Jontz (D-IN), Kika de la Garza (D-TX), and Claudine Schneider (R-RI) and Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Timothy Wirth (D-CO), and Rudy Boschwitz (R-MN) are working hard on legislation setting out clear national policies.

The draft legislation presently working its way through the complex processes of both Houses of Congress starts with findings" that every citizen concerned about our urban forests knows by heart (but that many of our elected representatives are just now discovering):

*the health of our urban forests is on the decline,

*shade trees and urban forests improve our urban quality of life,

*trees enhance the economic value of urban properties,

*tree plantings aid in reducing carbon dioxide, mitigate the heat island effect, and reduce energy consumption, thus helping to reverse global warming trends,

*tree planting efforts contribute to social well-being and promote a sense of community,

*and additional research, technical assistance, publication information, and participation in tree planting and maintenance programs is needed to provide for the protection and expansion of tree cover in urban areas.

The draft legislation then authorizes:

*an urban and community forestry research program,

*an expanded program of technical assistance and public education,

*federal assistance to communities in developing management plans for trees and associated urban resources,

* a national competitive urban and community forestry grants program to assist local and community groups in implementing urban forestry tree projects,

*and a National Urban and Community Forestry Council to oversee this effort, advise the Secretary of Agriculture and, most important of all, to prepare a National Urban and Community Forestry Action Plan.

Leaders in both the Senate and the House have seen that widespread, healthy urban forests are not just "niceties" but are "necessities" in dealing with the threats facing our planet. Also, there is a larger movement in the Congress to develop a wide-ranging national policy to deal with the whole set of problems grouped under the term greenhouse effect, and the urban forestry effort is being seen increasingly by Members of Congress as a vital building block in that overall effort.

All this attention in Congress didn't "just happen." If by now you have guessed that the American Forestry Association has been working just as hard in the 1980s to promote good urban forestry policy as it worked for good rural forestry policy in the 114 years since its founding, then you are exactly right! Your AFA Officers, Board Members, and other members and friends of AFA have been laboring mightily to convince the leaders in Congress (and their staff members) of this important point: just as this country needs sensible, broad-based national rural forestry policies, we must also have significant national urban forestry policies that serve the 90 percent of our population now living in towns and cities.

Your AFA knows that forging a national policy is just the first step. The all-important second step is getting appropriations to fund the policies. When I testified before the House Agriculture Committee, I told the Members of Congress that I had already been informed by a member of the Ways and Means Committee that "there is no money for this otherwise worthwhile effort." I said that I respectfully disagreed with the Congressman who made that assertion. I noted that the federal budget exceeded a trillion dollars, and so I concluded that there were at least a trillion dollars worth of other things to which the Members of Congress had assigned a higher priority. I politely suggested to the Members that it was vitally important to the health of our planet that they alter that scheme of priorities and move urban forestry higher on the list.

Though long overdue, a national urban forestry policy is finally emerging. As AFA members raise our glasses to toast that long-awaited event, those of us who care about trees and good forest policy-rural and urban-are sobered by the thought that the next battle is already near at hand. Now we must all prepare to fight tooth and nail for the funds to make those incipient national urban forestry policies into a green and growing reality!
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Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Willeke, Donald C.
Publication:American Forests
Date:Sep 1, 1989
Words:2212
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