ACTrees Interview: Burney Fischer on Rallying Urban Forest Councils

Bloomington, IN (April 1, 2013) – ACTrees Board Member Burney Fischer, Ph.D., talks about state Urban Forest Councils, their education and advisory mission, and his efforts to help bring them together. Fischer is Clinical Professor, School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA), and a past president of the Indiana Urban Forest Council. Here’s our interview:

5296 - Burney Fisher 1ACTrees: Tell us about your work with the Indiana Urban Forest Council. What’s the focus of that organization?

BF: Our primary focus is education. We host three educational conferences each year, with the fall annual conference in the Indianapolis area the biggest event. The winter and summer conferences are more regional in scope. We also provide advice to the State Urban Forestry Coordinator. Our advocacy work has been more in a partnership with other environmental groups. And, there’s always the issue of fund raising. Over reliance on Urban & Community Forestry grants and not having a diversified funding portfolio are continuing concerns.

ACTrees: Are there Urban Forest Councils in every state? Do they have similar mission?

BF: Most states have at least some form of urban forestry advisory council to the State Forestry organization as is required by the 1990 Farm Bill legislation, but only about 35 states or so actually have an active Urban Forest Council. The mission for most of them is advisory. Active Urban Forest Councils generally have the dual mission of education mixed with some advocacy. Annual educational conferences are also common as well as a newsletter, website, and social media outreach.

ACTrees: As a Board member of ACTrees, what have been your efforts to unite state Urban Forest Councils? 

BF: I’ve worked with Nancy Hughes, California Urban Forest Council and ACTrees Board Member, to raise the visibility of Urban Forest Councils. This is a very important and underrepresented subgroup in ACTrees. At first the idea was to just raise awareness, but what we learned was that they want to be organized and have a voice. So, we’re all trying to see what that might mean as we self-organize.  And, it is definitely a bottom up, collaborative effort.

ACTrees: What do you see as the benefits of state Urban Forest Councils coming together?

BF: Strength in numbers and some common themes. Urban forestry is at its roots very local. There is no federal policy or mandates about urban forestry and even at the state level it is treated as a local issue. So, we hope to leverage these strong statewide Urban Forest Councils with the many organizations that want to support urban trees in a way that will benefit local urban forestry programs and initiatives.

ACTrees: What can ACTrees do to support Urban Forest Councils? 

BF: Nurture and let things develop. ACTrees can provide some structure and assist with finding resources. ACTrees has provided a forum for Urban Forestry Councils to gather each year at ACTrees Annual meeting. This year the Annual meeting will be November 5th in Pittsburgh. The Urban Forest Councils have good leaders, so mostly the ACTrees Board and its network of member organizations need to let them find their way.

ACTrees: What’s the best way for state Urban Forest Councils to get involved with ACTrees?   

BF: ACTrees is a national nonprofit organization with a widely diverse network of members. Its goal is to provide the network with opportunities for collaborating and sharing best practices in urban and community forestry. As a large subgroup of ACTrees member organizations, Urban Forest Councils benefit from being part of this network. Urban Forest Councils will definitely benefit from working with ACTrees and its network to find common direction.

ACTrees Board Member Burney Fischer, Ph.D., is Clinical Professor, School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) and Co-Director, The Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Indiana University-Bloomington. Dr. Fischer was president of the Indiana Urban Forest Council (2010-12) and a former State Forester and Director, Indiana Division of Forestry (1990-2005).

Learn more about the 2013 ACTrees Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh, PA on November 5th.