Forest Service Chief Comments at SUFC 2008 Meeting

Washington, DC (January 24, 2008)- Today, Forest Service Chief, Gail Kimbell, addressed the Sustainable Urban Forests Coalition 2008 Annual Meeting…. 2007 was a winning year for the field of urban and community forestry, and I am so glad to be here today to congratulate you on your incredible accomplishments. We are proud to be a partner with you.

While the Forest Service is but one player in this important field, we feel that we have a lot to contribute. Over the past year,
* We expanded our reach to work with communities across the country on urban tree canopy goal- helping cities understand the right trees to plant, where to plant them, and most importantly, the return on each city’s green investment1. These efforts add to our long-standing work with LA, Sacramento, Baltimore, New York, and San Francisco, among others.
* We partnered with the city of Boston on a new initiative to develop the nation’s first Urban Experimental Forest! This is just the beginning of what we hope will be a whole network of urban experimental forests in the U.S.
* We began the process of drafting Urban Forestry greenhouse gas reporting protocols for the California Climate Action Registry! Over 65 organizations are involved.
* Stratum, the street tree management and analysis software that’s now part of our new iTree Suite, was the star of a story in the New York Times!
* And, in recognition of the extraordinary need to increase environmental literacy and improve urban forests, working with our partners to Engage America in Urban & Community Forestry became one of the seven goals of the Forest Service 2007-2012 Strategic Plan.
My list goes on, and my point is this: urban forestry is so important, so critical, to the future of conservation, that Forest Service resources are being directed to urban forestry. If we truly want to care for the land and serve the people, we need to engage urban America. None of us can do this alone- as you know, it requires unwavering synergy.
Part II. Climate, water, kids in the woods: the priceless contributions of U&CF
I want to spend a few minutes talking about three areas of focus for the Forest Service: climate change, water, and the need to connect people to nature, especially kids. These aren’t new topics, of course, but they are defining challenges for us in the conservation field.
Climate change has been a concern for decades- over the past few years it has become the subject of everyday news, stimulating public discourse and political action on a global scale.
We know that climate change may fundamentally alter the distribution of forest and grassland ecosystems in the U.S., their species diversity, their productivity, and their ability to supply the ecosystem services that sustain our quality of life.
Climate change cuts across virtually every major issue we face in land management – fire and fuels, pests and invasives, water resources, endangered species, outdoor recreation, markets, food security, sustainable development, and more. The social and economic costs could be enormous.
We also know that healthy forest and rangeland ecosystems can affect the rate of climate change.
Climate change is linked to declining snowpacks, retreating glaciers, and changing patterns of precipitation and runoff- the evidence confirms that we are entering a period of water scarcity not seen in our history.
Water shortages are already of significant concern in the U.S.- at least 36 states will face water shortages within the next 5 years; Forty percent of the world may be living in water scarce regions in just 20 years.
Forests supply 53 percent of the water in the contiguous United States, and city trees play a key role in ensuring good water quality and sufficient supply.
More kids in the woods
The challenges of climate change and water will not be resolved in the next few years- it will take generations. And we need to be sure that today’s children will be passionately willing and able to meet these challenges.
We’re working with partners around the country to get kids outdoors, face to face with nature, to begin to instill in them an appreciation of open space and a lasting land ethic.
Urban & Community Forestry programs are essential to our ability to respond to these challenges. Urban forestry programs are an important way to reach an increasingly diverse population.
In Los Angeles, white neighborhoods have 32 acres of park space for every 1,000 people- compared to only 1.7 acres for African-American neighborhoods and 0.6 acres for Hispanic neighborhoods4. Only 30% of the city’s residents live within walking distance of a park. How can someone care about the environment if that person can’t ever enjoy the benefits of a public green space or a single tree? And urban programs have the potential to reach the most people- because as you well know, 80 percent of the population lives in urban areas.
Urban & Community Forestry is a critical part of our More Kids in the Woods program- for many, taking kids to the woods will mean bringing them to a nearby park. We need urban greenways to help us connect children to nature, to the sense of community, to the many benefits of open space. Urban parks and gardens are a sanctuary for so many- we need to share their value with children.
Urban forest research was truly a pioneer in quantifying the benefits of nature – the ecosystem services that are provided by urban forests, from water quality to the remarkable reduction in crime rates. Researchers have done a superb job in communicating the value of ecosystem services to the public and providing urban forest managers with the right tools to demonstrate the value.
Urban forestry is already playing a role in climate change mitigation- your work has led more than 780 mayors in the U.S. to agree to “meet or beat” greenhouse gas emission targets in their own communities through actions that include tree planting. Three counties are members of the Chicago Climate Exchange, and the City of Boston is working with us to develop a carbon offset program that’s directly linked to its urban forest. Our response to climate change must include urban areas- the potential for an immediate impact is unmistakable.
The climate benefits of urban tree cover are considerable- not to mention their value in energy savings. “A well-placed shade tree in Los Angeles is worth 3-5 trees planted in a distant forest.”- This according to Hashem Akbari, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who specializes in “cool communities” technology.
There has been such a total groundswell of action in urban tree planting and improvements in green instructure, it’s so impressive- and to me, it’s a message from America, that investments in urban forestry programs are absolutely critical to human well-being. Through all of your grassroots efforts, and through your partnership with the Forest Service, you have led the way in protecting and expanding our urban and community forests. For this, I thank you. And I look forward to working with you in 2008!
Related Resources:
Administration Budget for FY 2009 Released
USDA Forest Service, Urban and Community Forestry