Send Letter to Editor
Putting the program pieces together
Who does what?
City forester | Sharing staff
Other options | Community partnerships
Board approval | People power
Growing Amherst's legacy | Growing Phillips' legacy
Growing Appleton's legacy | Have a plan
Merrill made tough choices | Growing Algoma's legacy
Tree ordinances | Growing Dresser's legacy
If money grows on trees, mine are in recession
Tree City USA
So, maybe you've been sold on the benefits of an urban forest. But how do you turn that conviction into a program of ongoing tree planting, pruning, protection, removal and replacement? What does it take to pull it off? Where do you start? Who does what? Where does the funding come from? Large and small, Wisconsin communities are finding ways to plant and nurture urban forest programs from the ground up.
Some tree programs start at the grassroots level with a small group of citizens concerned about one or more tree issues. Dutch elm disease was just such an issue and citizen reaction spawned local tree programs across the country.
Menomonie's modest tree program underwent major expansion in the early 1990s over citizen concerns about preserving the city's tree canopy amid growth and development pressure. Sanctioned as an advisory board, the group was instrumental in shaping an ordinance that protects existing trees during development and requires tree and shrub planting with new commercial construction.
Menomonie (pop. 16,000) has been recognized by the National Arbor Day Foundation as a Tree City USA since 1990, and has an ongoing tree-planting and care program to ensure that its wooded areas continue to thrive. Menomonie Mayor Dennis Kropp is a strong supporter of the city's urban forestry program. Before he retired as an elementary schoolteacher, Kropp involved his students in planting trees on the school ground and at the fairgrounds.
"Now some of those pines we planted are 25 to 30 feet tall," Kropp says. "It always brings back memories of my teaching days when I drive by those trees."
Like Menomonie, advisory tree boards in many communities raise public awareness and advocate for community trees. Tree boards can also develop and facilitate long-range, strategic program plans and spearhead various other forestry projects.
A decision to make early on, is who will have authority and responsibility for the tree program. Municipal governments generally have responsibility for managing the forest in their parks, along streets and on other public properties, so the job of forester is typically delegated to someone on staff, such as public works director, parks and recreation director, or administrator.
A city forester is the person responsible for administering tree-related programs and activities and the human and material resources to carry these out. While specific duties vary with each community, a city forester can be responsible for planning and overseeing tree planting, pruning, other tree maintenance and removals; maintaining a tree inventory; developing a tree management plan; assessing and responding to tree health conditions; providing input in community development projects; working with volunteers and urban forest education and advocacy.
The City of De Pere south of Green Bay (pop. 22,000) has a city forester, Don Melichar, who oversees maintenance and a pruning cycle for the large old trees as well as planting new trees. Melichar also monitors for and educates about invasive species as well as reviews landscaping plans with developers and architects. The city forester program came out of a step to advance the city's urban forest program in 2000.
"Before we had the city forester position, the director of parks and recreation was responsible for all city forestry issues, but the community came to realize that more time was needed for urban forestry than that position could give," Melichar says.
Not every community has staff devoted to urban forestry issues. Tracy Salisbury, DNR urban forestry coordinator in the Northeast Region, says that sometimes it isn't until a huge storm hits a community that urban forestry gets attention and cities start to work together.
Networking groups of municipal tree managers now exist in each region of Wisconsin to get communities talking about urban forest issues and even sharing funding, staffing and equipment.
"The urban forestry program took hold here because of a greater awareness of the importance of trees," says Tim Bauknecht, Ashwaubenon city forester.
That awareness came in the 1980s, as trees in the village created potentially hazardous situations with low-hanging limbs and weak, dead trees. In the early 1990s Ashwaubenon set out to correct those hazards and the village was revitalized under the guidance of a new director of parks, recreation and forestry. A tree board was created and the villages of Ashwaubenon and Howard jointly contracted for an urban forester to better manage their respective programs.
As a result of the project's success, both communities budgeted for and hired full-time urban foresters beginning in 1998. Today, Ashwaubenon not only has a full-time forester but six seasonal part-time staff to help with tree maintenance. Not bad for a community with a population of about 18,000.
Bauknecht's advice to other communities that think they can't afford an urban forest program or forester is to find innovative ways to initiate a program.
"Start small," Bauknecht says. "Share staff and equipment with other communities if you need to, like we did at first."
Contracting for forestry services can be another option, particularly for communities whose forestry needs may not warrant a full-time position. Some communities have been fortunate enough to find a volunteer forester in their midst. Regardless of who wears the hat, the person should have the time, training and skills necessary to protect the community investment in its green infrastructure. Proper planting, protection and maintenance of trees require considerable science-based knowledge.
For many years, the city of Menomonie contracted with a nearby tree service for urban forestry management services. The company's professional foresters trained city staff, conducted public education campaigns and managed the city's tree inventory – tasks that at the time exceeded the capacity of city personnel. This investment in contracted management not only enhanced the forestry program's credibility, but expanded tree awareness and program support, heightened effectiveness of the tree board and increased the skill level of the city's parks and streets workforce.
Partnerships are a key way to manage community forests, particularly in communities with minimal resources. In some communities, garden groups, Master Gardeners, and neighborhood groups lead tree planting and protection efforts. Banks have become involved in forestry efforts through donations and low or no-interest project loans. The Wisconsin Environmental Education Board (WEEB) program has many grants to further the education and understanding of the environment for adults and children alike. Many businesses from local to multinational now have "green" programs or provide grants or products to local organizations to build their tree programs. Most utility companies have programs for tree replacement under power lines and tree planting for energy conservation.
Many service organizations do tree planting including Kiwanis, Rotary and 4-H. Nonprofits also provide grants and support. Two national examples are the National Arbor Day Foundation and the Main Street Program. Two Wisconsin examples are Greening Milwaukee and the Urban Open Space Foundation.
Schools can be another source of help. Mid-State Technical College has received grants to develop an education center on the college's Wisconsin Rapids campus. Two demonstration areas specific to the utility industry include low-growing trees under or near power lines and installation of a non-energized power line. A $25,000 DNR Urban Forestry Grant, and $5,000 grants each from Alliant Energy and Madison Gas and Electric fund the project. Over 150 trees and 50 shrubs have been planted on the Wisconsin Rapids campus with help from area high school students. The education center is used for training students, the general public and forestry professionals.
In Rosendale, the grade school is actively planting trees. A local artisan made a plaque and etched into it the names of the students involved.
"The students will take ownership of those trees until they graduate," says Olivia Witthun, DNR urban forestry assistant for the Northeast Region.
Some communities rely on tree boards to develop and facilitate a plan for urban forest care. Residents with an interest in trees and related resources may work in cooperation with a city forester and advise the mayor, city council and other departments on matters concerning trees.
The town of Greenville (pop. 7,200), located west of Appleton, has accomplished most of its projects through the Greenville Urban Forestry Board. This talented group of people has accomplished a lot in a short time.
Steve Nagy, a founding member of the Urban Forestry Board, describes Greenville as a fast-growing community where many farm fields have been converted to lawns. Nagy says the town's urban forest program has been successful because it has direction and a long-term plan.
Since its formation in 1999, the Greenville Urban Forestry Board published operating guidelines that outlined the board's role and established responsibilities. With help from volunteers and town staff, they have planted over 1,000 trees. Seed-to-shade nurseries at Greenville's elementary schools educate and involve children in nurturing trees that can eventually be transplanted to the Greenville landscape.
Essential to its success is an urban forestry preservation ordinance. Greenville adopted its ordinance in 2001 and the town board began collecting a $300 fee on each new lot to cover street tree planting. The Urban Forestry Board worked with town staff to develop appropriate tree planting plans for new subdivisions.
Tree plantings also are being incorporated into the community's recreational trail. The Yellowstone Trail was the first coast-to-coast cross-country roadway in the United States, extending from Plymouth Rock to Puget Sound. The original roadbed traversed the Town of Greenville. Today, the community is rallying around the historical significance of the trail and has been planting trees along it to help restore the trail to its former glory.
Tony Nowak, director of parks and forestry for the Town of Greenville, was hired in 2003. "Before I came here there was one department that did everything from water to sewers to roads. The town of Greenville is growing rapidly and there is an increasing workload," he says.
They hired out the pruning work with assistance from a DNR urban forestry grant. Nowak says the key to securing funding is to keep projects unique and varied.
"The key to success is to have a group of citizens such as our tree board, that is passionate about what it does," Nowak says. "Their drive and determination are important."
This year, Greenville's Arbor Day celebration garnered widespread media attention for wide community involvement in planting 23 varieties of crabapple trees.
"The little town of Greenville was on the local news for Arbor Day and that's pretty big," Nowak says.
Individuals can play an important role in their community's urban forest, says Jeff Roe, DNR's urban forestry coordinator in South Central Region. Individuals can help establish long-term goals for the community forest, fund programs for maintenance and care, support volunteer organizations and champion community trees.
Roe suggests that individuals can volunteer to serve on a community tree board, help with work days and plantings, write articles about urban forestry issues for their local newspapers and newsletters, volunteer with schools and neighborhood groups to increase public awareness, adopt-a-park or tree and effectively manage their own backyards by forming a property plan to plant trees.
If you don't know where to begin, Roe suggests contacting your city forester or parks and recreation staff. They can direct you to the right source. Or, try your county extension office or the DNR's urban forestry coordinator for your area if you don't have a forester.
"Talk to your elected officials and let them know that urban forestry is important to you," Roe says.
Though public interest in community trees is generally strong, this support doesn't automatically translate into support for an ongoing program of tree care. Forestry programs are well supported when residents more fully understand how they reap the benefits of the trees they help pay for.
For many years, La Crosse has required homeowners receiving terrace trees to attend a brief training session where they learn about caring for new trees. The sessions have built awareness and support for the forestry program, improved tree care in general, reduced planting mortality and cut back on staff time for maintenance.
Kristina Skowronski, a former DNR Southeast Region urban forestry assistant, cites Mequon as a good example of a community that supports its urban forestry program by engaging the public. The city hosts an Arbor Day fair with free trees for residents.
"Recognizing the importance of educating residents, the Mequon tree board is proactive and provides the community with information on how to care for their trees," Skowronski says.
When the city crew planted 15 Northwood maple Tribute Trees, the Superior Urban Forest Tree Board had cause to celebrate. In the four years since the program started, 33 new trees have become a part of the city landscape. Superior's Tribute Tree Program was established in 2001 as a way for citizens as well as civic and business organizations to honor individuals and recognize special occasions.
After reviewing several municipal tree donation and memorial programs, the tree board went back to its strategic plan and decided to structure the Tribute Tree Program to increase tree populations on the city's boulevards. Corporations, individuals and families are donating trees for memories that they have of being in a park. The Superior program is an excellent example of how people can get involved in city improvement. The Tribute Tree Program encourages good stewardship and provides lasting benefits for donors and the city.
Have a plan
Imagine building a house without a plan. Few would try! Building and managing a community forest are equally difficult and wasteful without a plan. With 134 trees per mile lining the streets of an average American city, a street tree inventory is the way many communities begin developing a plan for their trees.
In fact, the best management decisions are based on facts. An inventory can provide the facts. What species and sizes are present? Where and how many empty planting sites exist? Are there hazardous trees? What maintenance is needed? Are there heritage trees that should be given special care? What's best for the community?
Based on a detailed tree inventory, a management plan identifies and prioritizes site-specific tree planting, maintenance and removal activities within a multi-year timeframe.
A good tree management plan can make the difference between cost-effective, proactive management and costly crisis management. Plans establish focus and direction. They provide the framework for program implementation and a basis for consistent decision making. They are tools for determining budgets and other support needs.
Merrill made tough choices
After a tree inventory and management plan were completed and later presented to the Merrill (pop. 10,146) City Council in 1999, the council members were flabbergasted and dismayed to learn that a significant number of their boulevard trees presented high risks.
Some council members went as far as touring the designated boulevards only to agree that there were some serious problems that needed to be addressed.
"This case is similar to other historic communities," says current City Parks and Recreation Director and City Forester Dan Wendorf. "The trees were older and becoming hazards. People asked who should do something because Merrill didn't have an urban forest program and only had a parks and recreation program."
The city council, public works, and parks and recreation department got together and sought funding to start with a tree inventory and management plan. The parks and recreation department applied for a DNR Urban Forest Grant to pay for a street tree inventory. Wendorf says they first needed to identify how many trees the city has, tree health, pruning and removal needs, and diversity.
Wendorf worked with a consultant to catalogue the tree species and over several months they mapped out what the city had. When they found that Merrill had 40 percent maple on its boulevards they realized the need to diversify. They also found out that of 6,000 trees, about 580 needed to be removed, including 300 that were immediately removed because they posed high risk to public safety. They also found that there were about 800 sites that could potentially be planted. By working with local media and distributing neon-green door hangers to homes they were able to keep the community informed.
Along with the management plan and street tree inventory, Merrill now has a set of urban forestry ordinances that empowers the city forester.
"The goal of the street tree inventory is to get to the point where we can plant more trees than we remove," Wendorf says. "The key is to use the resources that we have: volunteers, DNR grant funding and work with other organizations."
"You are never too small to have a management plan," he says.
Why have tree ordinances? Tree ordinances are tools to help communities achieve goals. Matters pertaining to tree damage, health and safety, and general welfare are often best codified in an ordinance. Tree ordinances are not new. The first is believed to have been enacted in 1807 when a Detroit ordinance specified tree planting along the city's streets. Tree ordinances provide authorization and standards for management activities.
The effectiveness of a tree ordinance is influenced by many factors. The key is to write an ordinance simply, clearly and tailored to the community's needs. An ordinance that works well in one community may be unworkable in another. Do the residents support or oppose various ordinance provisions, or are they even aware of them? Is there sufficient capacity to enforce the ordinance? Does the ordinance account for environmental limitations that affect tree health, growth and survival? Does the local government have the financial resources to fulfill ordinance requirements? Since the answers to these questions will vary from place to place, even very similar ordinances can have quite different outcomes in different communities.
If money grows on trees, mine are in recession
Tree care costs money but it's an investment that pays back over time. Community trees are a local responsibility, but federal and state assistance is available to help plant trees and establish community forestry programs.
American Forests suggests that 20 percent of an urban forestry budget should be directed at planting and early care. A program of pruning young trees is a wise long-term investment. It is estimated that municipalities with forestry programs spend between $8 and $11 per tree each year. However, the total value of the nation's street trees is estimated at $30 billion. Communities must find ways to balance income with the cost of tree care.
From local donations to state and federal grants, money is available to fund community forestry. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) helps victims of natural disasters. The key to collecting from FEMA to replace lost trees is to prove that your community regularly maintained its trees and replaced them under normal circumstances.
State government can help. The obvious candidate here is the DNR with its urban forestry grants but the departments of Transportation and Corrections (inmates or those sentenced to community service), and local fire and police departments are sources of labor or grants. Check with your county extension office for additional grants and volunteer sources.
Local funding might come from taxes, local tree trusts, municipal utility bill donations, memorials and cost-sharing. Consider including tree planting as part of infrastructure improvement projects such as street and road improvement. In some areas, money from recycling programs is used to purchase trees.
Appleton has become creative when it comes to funding. For Arbor Day, it hosted a tree planting at the local sports complex. A $5 surcharge per player was put on the Babe Ruth teams and they were able to raise enough money to plant 20 trees.
Greening Milwaukee is a nonprofit that shows people how easy it can be to plant trees and shares information on the positive effect of trees in the urban environment. Greening Milwaukee has received innovative funding that includes an Adopt-A-Tree Initiative, Mayor's Landscape Awards, Tree Gift Program, Greening Milwaukee Schools program and volunteer opportunities. Visit Greening Milwaukee.