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Sizing up city trees.

Most urban dwellers appreciate shady streets, but until recently even those responsible for taking care of urban trees were un-aware that our nation's cities are losing four trees for every one planted. To many city dwellers, the prospect of barren, lifeless streets is an Orwellian nightmare, but fortunately the first step toward averting that grim future was taken in 1986 when the National Urban Forest Council surveyed our urban forests and then publicized their severe decline in a report titled "The State of Our City Forests," published in AMERICAN FORESTS in june of 1986 and widely reprinted.

But that study was just the tip of the iceberg. The findings showed the need for action, so now the Council has taken the next step and is plumbing the base of the iceberg and finding trends for the future.

The first survey resulted in a hue and cry that led to a new interest in urban forests among community leaders. Some cities took major steps to make improvements. Encouraged by the public response, the National Urban Forest Council-a nationwide network of researchers, professionals, and citizen activists-decided to mobilize its forces to conduct the in-depth survey.

Both studies started from a casual remark. In 1986 the director of Baltimore's Parks and Recreation Department, Chris Delaporte, said, "What we need first off is some kind of message to carry with us when we go to the mayor's office, some kind of way to prove the problem when we see the city managers." That comment resulted in the original, 20-city survey.

But last year john Ronald, a member of the Council from the U.S. Forest Service in California, pointed out that some city foresters are reluctant to use that study to support their case, for fear that city officials will discount its findings on the grounds that it applies to the communities studied but not necessarily to their own. Ronald called on the Urban Forest Council to do a more detailed study.

The first challenge was how to conduct a survey without funding-a difficult but not uncommon challenge for the Council members. Jim Kielbaso of Michigan State University and Cal Bey of the U.S. Forest Service formed a subcommittee to decide the survey's methodology. With the help of fellow Council members Tom Smiley of Bartlett Tree Research Laboratories and jim Geiger of the California Division of Forestry, the subcommittee decided that the cities to be surveyed had to be selected randomly for the results to be accurate. There should be no chance that only cities with active tree-replacement programs would be chosen.

Once a methodology was devised, another ad hoc subcommittee consisting of Don Greene, Clyde Hunt, Bill Page, john Ronald, and Mike Hanson -all with the U.S. Forest Service-started working with state forestry agencies to organize the process of selecting data. The challenge was to persuade 20 states and 400 communities to participate.

The subcommittee then distributed the survey materials to state and city foresters. Adding the survey work to their already busy schedules, the foresters selected sample sites in each city. Centered on an intersection of two streets, each site extended a quarter mile in two directions on both sides of both streets, for a total of one mile of street per sample. Three types of areas were surveyed: downtown, old residential, and suburban. Individual foresters then walked the streets, tallying the number of trees and their species, size, and condition.

The reason for surveying downtown, urban residential, and suburban sites was to compare the lifespan of trees based on the harshness of their growing spaces. For example, the downtown is hot and dry compared with the suburbs.

Collecting data on the condition of each city's trees is intended to show likely trends for the future. The previous study simply counted all standing trees as alive, even if they were in poor health and apt to be gone soon. By measuring the condition of standing trees, the present study will help show what lies ahead.

Also gathered was information on the total number of potential planting sites and the size of those spaces. The Council members believe that lack of adequate planting space is the No. 1 deterrent to tree health. Early returns indicate that many cities have enough planting sites available to double their total number of trees.

A supplementary questionnaire requested information on whether each city employs a professional forester and has formulated a tree-management plan. Other data collected included the number of trees planted throughout the city and the number removed in recent years.

To further evaluate the outlook for the future, the council requested information on whether the community has a budget for tree care and whether the size of that budget has fluctuated during the past two years. (The 1986 study showed that budgets for tree care have been cut, sometimes dramatically.)

With the help of Jim Kielbaso, the American Forestry Association offered to oversee tabulation of the data by computer. The findings will be revealed and detailed reports made available to the states at the Fourth Urban Forestry Conference, to be held in St. Louis on October 15-19. AFA's urban-forestry department may be contacted for information on obtaining copies.

Communities across the country contributed time and effort to completing the survey. The results will help them build community support for urban-forestry programs ground in the battle of local budget priorities. All in all, the sur-, is an impressive success story of community cooperation for conservation.
COPYRIGHT 1989 American Forests
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Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Rodbell, Phillip
Publication:American Forests
Date:Sep 1, 1989
Words:911
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