Neighborwoods programs may bring new trees to town

By Jim Wooldridge
Hendersonville, NC (June 7, 2007)- Hundreds of new trees could be planted locally under a plan being discussed by the Hendersonville Tree Board and the Environmental and Conservation Organization (ECO). The plan is named “Neighborwoods” by cities that have adopted it because the emphasis is on neighborhoods controlling the process. Neighborhood associations suggest where trees should be located and they also plant and maintain them.

At Tuesday’s meeting of the Hendersonville Tree Board, the board discussed the program but took no formal action. All of the comments were supportive of eventual adoption here. The plan has been under study for several months. David Weintraub, director of ECO, told the board that his organization will support the program because of its obvious benefit to the environment. He said ECO has contacted some of the cities which have adopted the plan and will bring this information to the board.
Born in Texas
In 1992, an organization called TreeFolks in Austin, Texas, started offering free trees and planting instruction to volunteer groups placing the trees on pubic lands. Since then thousands of trees have gone to schools, churches, neighborhood associations and others who plant them on highway rights-of-way, medians, housing projects and green spaces in the Austin area.
TreeFolks provides the trees, landscape design, tools and planting supervision. Recipients provide locations, planters and a guarantee of maintenance for a minimum of two years. The program is financed mainly by Austin Energy, an electric utility.
TreeFolks also sponsors a Sapling Day each year in which 500 trees are given away to Austin residents who will plant and maintain them on private property. This has been expanded into other central Texas towns. In 2005, the organization gave away 2,500 trees.
Also in Austin, Texas, the electric utility company sponsors a similar program that has seen nearly 4,000 trees planted each year. The aim is to combat the “heat island” effect of paved surfaces under summer sunlight. “Urban areas have roofs, sidewalks and especially roads that absorb sunlight throughout the day and hold it so efficiently that it doesn’t fully dissipate overnight,” according to Austin spokesman Fred Jackson. “The following morning it absorbs even more energy which, again, it isn’t able to dissipate, etc.
The result is that urban areas average much warmer in the summer than the surrounding countryside. It means higher water use, compromised comfort and sometimes health risks, also much higher energy use.”
The official said placing trees where they will grow to shade paved and masonry surfaces is one of the easiest, least expensive and most effective ways to combat the heat island effect. The plan, he said, also enhances the beauty of a neighborhood and places trees where they will not interfere with overhead utility lines.
Oklahoma version
Stillwater, Okla., adopted much of the Austin program, but decided to make it a mainly private organization, independent of taxpayer support. In its first three years, Stillwater Neighborwoods has received $2,776,140 in cash and in-kind contributions.
The Stillwater Tree Board manages the program through its own forestry coordinator, an official who works with other city departments, citizen groups and businesses. The coordinator helps select locations and types of trees to be planted. Recipients may choose from five species that are adapted to the area and sign a two-year agreement to water and nurture the young plant.
“The program is based on the thinking that the government’s role is to facilitate tree planting by working with businesses (who pay for the trees) and citizens (who plant and water the trees) rather than being the direct provider of tree planting,” coordinator Carrie Tomlinson said. “In this way, the people who are willing to put forth the effort to plant and maintain the trees are the people who receive the direct benefit of the trees. Not like planting a tree in an arbitrary place and having the city maintain it.”
The Stillwater program uses aerial photos to help select areas that most need shade trees. Neighborhoods there must show tree canopy coverage of less than 20 percent to qualify for program planting. Locations are chosen that will not result in mature trees interfering with overhead utility cables.
During the first three years of operation, Stillwater Neighborwoods resulted in 9,700 five-gallon-container trees being planted at an average cost of $23.74 per tree, according to the group’s Web site. Cash and in-kind donations from citizens totaled $2.8 million, with a single dry-cleaning firm contributing $80,000. The total cost to taxpayers was $56,000 ($5.77 per tree).
Hendersonville Tree Board
Prior to Tuesday’s tree board meeting, member Mac Bracket said he has been researching the neighborhood planting concept for almost a year. The board is ready to adopt some portions of the plan and is discussing others, he said, but it hasn’t put together a whole program for Hendersonville. The focus on neighborhoods is good, Brackett said, and funding from contributions would lessen the cost to taxpayers, but Hendersonville’s situation will probably require some adjustments.
Weintraub said his study showed neighborhood planting is usually decided on the basis of three factors:
1. Aerial or satellite infrared photography that shows heat radiation and tree canopy cover.
2. On-site surveys to determine the most practicable locations considering buildings, streets and utility lines.
3. Existing neighborhood organizations. Strong ones are best.
He said ECO will support the program by helping in both the planning and the execution. Before the meeting, Brackett said the present $5,000 budget of the tree board will not permit city-wide planting, but it could be used to start the program. Whatever the source of money, he said, the accounts should be kept at the city finance department where they would be open to the public and qualified for tax-free contributions.
In past years, the board has been planting trees on public land where trees were most needed — along thoroughfares and in places where they were sparse, like Oakdale Cemetery. Survival of the city-planted trees would be improved if maintenance was available, he said, but this is difficult to provide. Maintenance by neighborhood associations might work.
Brackett praised the assistance of the Public Works Department in all of the tree projects thus far. He estimated the city has planted more than 400 trees since the board was established.
Related Resources:
Blue Ridge Times News
Hendersonville Tree Board
Stillwater Tree Board
Environmental and Conservation Organization