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A thousand points of green.

Fresh from its sixth national conference, urban forestry has an energy level on overdrive, an enviable partnership record, and new political prominence. Not bad for a movement that used to be thought of as a misnomer.

There was a time, not so long ago, when urban forest advocates spent much of their time defining a movement that seemed to many to be a misnomer. Fifteen years and six national conferences later, that time is spent discussing how to involve diverse elements of both large and small communities, sharing success stories, and networking with partners who once seemed unheard of in a "green" climate.

Although the movement is relatively young, it is growing rapidly, and enthusiasm ran high among a record 980 participants at the three-day Sixth National Urban Forest Conference in Minneapolis in October.

The conferences have expanded beyond their initial interest group of professional foresters, arborists, and researchers concerned about the science of planting and caring for urban trees. Trees, it has been shown, do more than just make us feel good--they help with energy conservation, remove carbon dioxide from the air, and increase property values. The movement now boasts citizen activists, government officials, teachers, students, business owners, and corporate giants. Conference organizers and sponsors for the 1993 event included AMERICAN FORESTS, U.S. Forest Service, Chevrolet-Geo Environmental/Tree Program, National Tree Trust, Minnesota Shade Tree Advisory Committee, and Sterling Vineyards.

When AMERICAN FORESTS president Donald C. Willeke gaveled the conference to order with a mallet made from a much-loved local American elm felled by Dutch elm disease, he kicked off more than just lectures, workshops, and awards banquets. The conference was also about networking and information sharing--and some cheerleading too. And although participants were preaching mostly to the choir, their messages are echoing far beyond the meeting rooms at the downtown Hyatt Regency.


* A special appearance by Jim Lyons, assistant secretary of agriculture for natural resources and environment. Lyons, an early advocate of urban forestry and one of the first members of the National Urban Forest Council, confessed he had asked for the chance to address the gathering.

* A contingent of a dozen international attendees from 10 countries. Their participation made the Sixth National the First International urban forest conference.

* The announcement of a Philadelphia veterinarian as the nation's "Master Planter" for 1993, chosen from more than 1,000 nominees around the country. The award, sponsored jointly by MasterCard and AMERICAN FORESTS' Global ReLeaf program, salutes individual efforts on behalf of tree planting.

Suzanne Malec Hoerr, urban forest manager for Chicago's Openlands Project, brought four teens to show them the wealth of career opportunities in green industry. The effort paid off: "They all left saying, 'I think I'm interested in this,'" she said.

The sessions addressed a range of topics from success stories to tough issues. One focused just on strategies for small towns, another on partnerships with the business community. Others dealt with costs and biology. There was tough talk, too, both about how the federal budget crunch may well spell less money for urban forestry projects, and how good citizen support makes a project more attractive to those awarding the grant money.

One of the most rousing speakers was Vicki Clark, director of volunteer center services for Washington's nonprofit, nonpartisan Points of Light Foundation. Clark was there to promote the benefits of volunteerism, and she urged listeners to market themselves to potential volunteers. She fired off statistics that showed people aged 18-24 are unlikely to be asked to volunteer and debunked the notion that low-income citizens, minorities, or those 65 or older might be unwilling or unable to volunteer.

Gone are the days, she declared, when volunteers were thought to be, as children once told her, "Little old ladies who don't have anything to do and want to go to heaven."

She cited a barrage of images competing for attention--MTV, cable, catalogs--and recommended that those delivering a message work to do it creatively. "The exceptional work that you do can bring out exceptional people--that's powerful stuff."

And there was no shortage of "powerful stuff" to inspire: Todd Williams of Hollywood Urban Project told of his group's efforts to work with inner-city kids to improve their self-esteem and sense of responsibility. A program that gets trees in the ground as it pairs youngsters with public-spirited mentors--firemen--was described by Bob Ricard, urban and community forester for the University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension Service. Adrienne Scott of Sacramento Tree Foundation showed slides of small children learning environmental stewardship as they planted acorns.

The conference also had its share of high-tech razzle-dazzle. A pre-conference workshop and a session during the meeting focused on computer mapping and how to better include plantings in urban planning. Gary Moll and Cheryl Kollin of AMERICAN FORESTS detailed the work the national Cool Communities program is doing to help cut down on heating and cooling bills, in part through strategic plantings. The science of Geographic Information Systems allows layers of information to be laid over aerial maps of a city, an ecosystem, or a site to be developed.

This new thinking is coloring language as well. In a companion talk, Gary Mason of Wolfe Mason Associates said the industry term "infrastructure," which traditionally has meant roads, sewers, signs, and the like, is now "gray infrastructure." Its counterpart--"green infrastructure"--refers to urban forests, open space, and waterways, and both the gray and green versions have to be present to create a community in which people want to live and socialize, Mason said.

Both kinds are present in Minneapolis, and the local arrangements committee put on a hard-to-beat showcase at a Friday ReLeaf in the Park Festival. The walk along the greenway to Loring Park was an educational one as experts stationed along the way gave mini-talks on subjects ranging from pests to soils. In the park, a local group, The Brazil Nuts, provided toe-tapping music as participants wound along the tree-lined path checking out displays, admiring the lush greenness, and avoiding brazen squirrels looking for a handout. The demonstrations ranged from pruning to large-tree planting. A favorite showed the evolution of the science of tree planting, including the wrong way, the old way, and the right way to plant a tree. The trees played their parts to the hilt: the properly planted tree was vibrant, the "old-way" tree somewhat droopy, and the "wrong-way" tree downright wilted.

As the afternoon wore on, it began to drizzle and then it started to rain, but participants and curious citizens stayed to watch a ceremonial tree planting and hear officials including Congressman Bruce Vento, a St. Paul native, and actor Mike Farrell of the long-running M*A*S*H TV series, who was on hand to present the Master Planter award that night.

At Friday night's Global ReLeaf banquet, attendees applauded Dr. Joseph Dlugach, the "Master Tree Planter" who received the MasterCard Jean Giono Award in Partnership with Global ReLeaf from Mike Farrell. Two citizen groups--Sacramento Tree Foundation and Seattle's Friends of Trees--received Geo Awards from the car company's environmental/tree program .

Congressman Vento assured those at the banquet that their efforts on behalf of urban forestry were not lost on Congress or the Clinton Administration. "You are the front lines saving the forests for future generations," he said.

Earlier in the week, Lyons, an early member of the AMERICAN FORESTS-founded National Urban Forest Council, tipped his hat to the urban forestry movement: "Working together, we can build on our past performances, seize on new opportunities, and help shape the future through our needs and our desires and make our cities and communities better places to live."

Trees, open space, streams, and associated natural resources are the "lifeblood of communities," Lyons said. "They connect us with nature. They protect us from the elements. They clean the air, cool our cities, conserve energy, and lower utility bills. They improve our quality of life. They provide us with a sense of community. They help improve our individual and community self-esteem, promote our physical and mental well-being."

Lyons also touched on the Department of Agriculture's recent commitment to a philosophy of ecosystem management, management that benefits whole ecosystems rather than individual resources. The previous blinders-on focus "has hurt us, frankly...We've lost our focus on people" both inside and outside the Forest Service, he said, adding, "There is no better place to demonstrate how ecosystem management can and should work than in our urban and community environments." And there is perhaps no better model to work from than the urban forestry movement. As the Forest Service's Rowan Rountree said upon receiving an award for his urban forestry research efforts: "The urban forestry community here is like an ecosystem. Every person plays an important role."

Michelle Robbins is managing editor of this magazine.
COPYRIGHT 1994 American Forests
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Sixth National Urban Forest Conference
Author:Robbins, Michelle
Publication:American Forests
Date:Jan 1, 1994
Previous Article:Conservation easements: are they for you?
Next Article:Putting trust back into forestry.

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