Sizing Up City Trees

By Moll, Gary; Rodbell, Phillip | American Forests, September-October 1989 | Go to article overview

Sizing Up City Trees


Moll, Gary, Rodbell, Phillip, American Forests


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. …

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