A National Urban Forests Policy: It's about Time!

By Willeke, Donald C. | American Forests, September-October 1989 | Go to article overview

A National Urban Forests Policy: It's about Time!


Willeke, Donald C., American Forests


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. …

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