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Urban and Community Forestry

urban trees

Forestry is traditionally associated with management of large tracts of timberland and smaller woodlots. Often these forests are quite distant from the daily lives of most people. All of the trees within a town, village, or city make up the "community forest". The community forest can include street and yard trees, parks, cemeteries, school grounds, and undeveloped green spaces. Urban and Community Forestry is the management of community forests to establish and maintain healthy trees for air and water quality benefits, energy savings, environmental health, as well as to enhance the quality of life for urban residents. The urban and community forest also contains wildlife, waterways, built roads and structures, and people. This is where most people in New York live and work.

The New York State Urban and Community Forestry (UCF) Program is a partnership between DEC forestry professionals, public and private individuals, and volunteer organizations who care about trees in urban settings. It supports and assists communities in comprehensive planning, management, and education to create healthy urban and community forests to enhance the quality of life for urban residents. Funding for this program is provided in part by the State of New York and the U.S. Forest Service.

community forestry steet

The NYS Urban and Community Forestry Program provides technical assistance to communities through local DEC Urban Foresters and ReLeaf volunteers. Financial assistance is available from the State through competitive cost-share grants. Technical assistance includes presentations, training workshops, brochures, booklets, information on our website, and helpful links to other U&CF related websites.

Urban and Community Trees Need Special Care

people walking through urban forest

Trees provide numerous environmental, social, health and economic benefits for people, yet urban areas present challenging environments for trees to grow and survive in. The environment and human actions can cause different stresses to urban trees, some of which include: restricted root-growth area, road-salt exposure, soil moisture extremes, compacted soil, reduced soil fertility, pollution, improper pruning, trenching, and damage from lawn-care equipment, snow plows or vandalism. These stressful growing conditions can cause a decline in tree health and may eventually result in death, if not corrected in time. By actively managing our community forests, we protect these valuable resources and preserve and/or enhance the resulting benefits.

Benefits of Trees in Urban Areas

Studies show that trees improve air and water quality, reduce flooding, reduce cooling and heating energy needs, increase property values and improve the quality of life for people and wildlife around them.

Trees remove air and water pollutants through both their root systems and their leaves. Tree canopies shade buildings, sidewalks, streets and other structures keeping them cooler which reduces air conditioning and other energy needs in summer. Strategically placed trees, and correct tree species selection, can shelter buildings from cold winds in winter months reducing heating costs.

kids helping to plant trees

The positive effects trees have on human health and well-being are numerous. Studies have found that exposure to trees reduces the symptoms of stress and depression, can aid in the recovery from surgery, and reduce the incidence of domestic violence. People are more likely to exercise if parks are nearby. When people utilize parks and shady street trees, they are more likely to meet and establish bonds with their neighbors, which helps to create a sense of community. When people enjoy spending time in their neighborhoods, they develop pride and a sense of ownership in their communities. The presence of trees and the proximity to parks can also increase residential and commercial property values.

Important Ingredients of a Well-managed Community Forest

  • tree planting
    A Tree Ordinance to provide authority for conducting forestry programs; establishing a Tree Board; defining municipal responsibility for public and private trees; passing regulations and setting minimum standards for urban forestry management.
  • A group that is responsible for the oversight of the community forest - a Tree Board. Responsibilities may include policy formulation, advising, administration, management, representation and/or advocacy.
  • Identification of what trees and areas will be managed. Street trees, parks, cemeteries, schools, etc.
  • Development of a tree inventory, including; locations, species, condition, and management needs. A survey is necessary in order to develop a management plan.
  • Creation of a management plan. Create a vision for the long-term community forest management; develop strategies, budgets and plans to meet that vision.
  • Use of professional staff or consultants. Whether creating a staff position for a certified arborist or urban forester, or contracting with them on an as needed basis, professional assistance will have some of the greatest and most immediate impacts on your community forestry program. Professionals are trained in tree inventory, management planning, planting techniques, pruning and tree care, risk tree assessment, tree removal, tree pest and health issues, and can train volunteers in appropriate management practices.

Additional Resources Supporting the Importance of Trees and Urban Forestry

More about Urban and Community Forestry:

  • Urban and Community Forestry Upcoming Activities - A list of upcoming activities for people interested in Urban and Community Forestry.
  • Urban and Community Forestry Grants - The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation annually announces the availability of community state assistance grants for tree planting and urban forestry projects. These grants are reimbursement cost-share grants that must be equally matched by local resources.
  • Managing Your Community Forest - Four Steps to a Well Managed Forest include a tree board, a tree ordinance, use of professionals, and a management plan.
  • Managing Risk in Urban Trees - Recognizing Hazardous Defects in Trees
  • Caring for Urban Trees - Guidance on planting and caring for trees in urban environments.
  • How To Plant A Tree - Choosing the right tree for the right site, proper planting and proper care will give your trees the healthy start they need to grow strong and live long.
  • Tree City, Tree Campus, and Tree Line USA - Tree City USA is a program sponsored by The National Arbor Day Foundation in cooperation with the USDA Forest Service and the state forestry agencies. It provides direction, technical assistance, public attention, and national recognition for urban and community forestry programs in thousands of towns and cities that more than 93 million Americans call home.
  • New York ReLeaf - Statewide effort that brings people together to share information about trees and to improve the future of trees where we live
  • Arbor Day - Arbor Day is a national observance that celebrates the role of trees in our lives and promotes tree planting and care.
  • Heat Island Effects - trees reduce the heat island effect