Comments Filed by ACT on Forest Service Open Space Agenda

Washington, DC (December 26, 2006)- The Forest Service recently announced a request for comments on its Open Space Strategy and Implementation plan. ACT filed comments that centered on the value of the agency’s Urban and Community Forestry Program as a source of expertise that will be critical to the agency’s success in tackling the issue of open space fragmentation and loss.

Download the Open Space Letter or read a copy of the letter below.
December 13, 2006
Claire Harper
USDA Forest Service
Cooperative Forestry
Mail Stop Code 1123
1400 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, DC 20250-1123
Dear Ms. Harper,
I am writing on behalf of the Alliance for Community Trees regarding the notice in the federal register on open space issues. In particular, we would like to address item #3, “How can the Forest Service mitigate the impacts of existing and new developments.”
Alliance for Community Trees is a federation of 100 community nonprofit organizations dedicated to urban and community forestry. Our member organizations represent most large metropolitan areas in the US. ACT member groups have planted 7.8 million trees in cities with help from 450,000 volunteers.
We believe the Forest Service has an excellent tool — its Urban and Community Forestry program — to help mitigate the impacts of existing and new developments. The U&CF program has, over the years, developed enormous expertise in understanding how to work with people in developed and changing landscapes to achieve greater stewardship of natural resources.
In the future, we believe the U&CF program, with support from the Forest Service, can and should develop stronger expertise and enhanced delivery capacity in several focus areas, which would benefit the agency’s open space strategy:
1.) BECOME THE EXPERTS IN “GREEN LAWS” (Land use planning, legal tools, voluntary and regulatory mechanisms, etc.)
While it is not the federal role to dictate zoning or land use, it is very appropriate for the Forest Service to develop legal and land-use planning expertise in order to assist communities in achieving community-determined goals. Regional and local urban planners often lack the specialized forestry and natural resources knowledge that would help address open space and conservation issues. In many cases, state forestry agencies lack sufficient expertise in law and urban planning to be able to provide a very thorough understanding of the legal mechanisms available to achieve desired outcomes.
The Forest Service and its state partners can fill a valued and specialized role by developing a skill set that marries natural resources knowledge with legal/zoning/planning expertise.
The U&CF program has some of this capacity now, and over time could develop stronger expertise at the federal and state levels in this much-needed area. It is no longer enough for resource agencies to focus staff expertise strictly on forestry and resource management — other external factors are impacting these resources dramatically, and the agency should be the leader in helping communities manage those factors, which are increasingly driven by law, zoning, and economics.
U&CF and other cooperative programs have focused in the past on delivery of programs to individual landowners or individual government entities. As landholdings become smaller and more fragmented, this approach is returning diminishing benefits and is unsustainable as a business model. Within U&CF, there are opportunities to create new green space corridors within metropolitan regions by spearheading or facilitating multi-agency/multi-landowner initiatives. There are many places, even in urban areas, where the opportunity exists for open space creation/preservation, but no lead agency or entity is taking up the cause.
A good example of the kinds of opportunities that do indeed exist in urbanized areas is in the Baltimore -Washington corridor, near our own office in Beltsville, Maryland. Divided among several federal land owners, state agencies, and private landowners, this area contains the largest green / open space in the DC/Baltimore region. Yet it is not, for the most part, managed for any working lands or ecological services benefits. A new initiative, working with the state, is seeking to help these landowners work together to create a larger management plan to reforest and manage these lands for public benefit.
U&CF is among the most active forestry programs in tapping public support and public participation in stewardship issues. This community-based orientation remains critical to the future. The values of the community will shape the landscape, not the values of the Forest Service. Therefore, the agency must meet the public halfway by intentionally engaging people in all of our land management programs.
Expertise and tools for effective tree management in the urban landscape is a growing need, as cities expand and as more communities understand the benefits of trees. Individual tree care remains an important part of this picture, and is absolutely critical to the success of local programs. We need Forest Service research to improve arboriculture practice and to provide management and design solutions for sustaining urban forests across a landscape.
Within the U&CF program, federal expertise is best applied to larger scale questions, such as: How will urban forests in the future be managed to provide the greatest services and benefits to the public? How can cities manage their urban forest systems so that no part of the resource is wasted? How can cities grow urban forests while reducing tree maintenance demands and costs?
We encourage the agency to turn to the expertise that resides in its outstanding UCF program, and to its researchers working on urban forest issues, in the development and implementation of its Open Space Conservation Strategy.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment.
Alice Ewen Walker
Executive Director