Magazine article American Forests

Growing an Audience

Magazine article American Forests

Growing an Audience

Article excerpt

Research has proven trees are invaluable to urban landscapes. The question now: Why aren't more cities listening?

Cities, it is hoped, will develop proactive and ambitious tree planting goals as a primary strategy for meeting dean air standards.

While Hurricane Isabel pummeled the East Coast in September, leaving shattered trees in her wake, more than 800 urban forestry advocates, practitioners, and researchers bunkered down in rainy San Antonio for AMERICAN FORESTS' 2003 National Urban Forestry Conference, "Engineering Green."

Although Isabel's march grabbed the headlines, a reporter looking for a more harrowing tale of urban tree loss would have done better at the conference. Cities have lost nearly one-quarter of their tree cover in the last 11 years, that fact simply has not made headlines.

And that simple fact offered perhaps the most enduring lesson to come out of the conference: The urban forestry movement has to do a better job of convincing the public and policymakers of the importance of integrating trees into our communities.

That trees vastly improve the quality of life in our cities is no longer idle speculation. Over the last 25 years countless practitioners have documented the value of urban forests in cleaning air, managing stormwater runoff, saving energy, reducing crime, and improving public health and psychological well-being. While the conference program was packed with diverse presentations describing these benefits, the overriding refrain remained: We have convinced ourselves, why can't we convince others?

"We have successfully shown that trees have a range of ecosystem values," said Gary Moll, vice president of AMERICAN FORESTS' Urban Forest Center, during the opening session. "We want people to take that message home and, with the best possible data, convince their city leaders and budget officials to incorporate those values in an ongoing way."

Ten years ago, this directive might have fallen on deaf ears. Yet a resolution penned at the 2003 U.S. Conference of Mayors suggests that elected officials in the nation's largest cities may be ready to listen. More than just a set of vague nods, the resolution explicitly addresses urban forests' value in improving urban air quality, conserving energy, and controlling sedimentation and water runoff from nonpoint sources. Perhaps most significantly, the mayors resolved to work closely with the U.S. Forest Service and other state and federal agencies to reverse urban tree decline.

Despite the U.S. Forest Service's recent influx of money into municipal urban forestry programs, our national "tree deficit" continues to grow. In 2001 AMERICAN FORESTS estimated that deficit at more than 634 million trees. And although urban forestry has matured since it was launched about 25 years ago, many cities are struggling to simply slow their rate of deforestation, let alone replant their canopies.

"We are moving from a program that was largely aesthetics-based to one that is science-based," Joel Holtrop, the Forest Service's deputy chief for state and private forestry, said in the conference's opening session. "Now we must use this new focus to influence community members and policymakers."

A quarter-century of intense research and advocacy is beginning to pay off. The movement has developed tools and trained professionals through accredited urban forestry programs whose existence, Holtrop says, "would have been unthinkable 25 years ago. …

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