Tree Procurement Contracts: New York City’s Quest for Amazing Trees

By Matthew Stephens
Senior Forester, New York City Parks and Recreation

New York, NY (May 1, 2010)- New York City is in the midst of a major planting initiative, MillionTreesNYC, with the ultimate goal of planting one million trees by the year 2017. Of the one million trees, 220,000 will be street trees, 380,000 will be for reforestation efforts, and the remaining 400,000 will be planted on private property. The street trees get planted at 2.5-3 inch (63.5-76.2 mm) caliper. Since MillionTreesNYC was announced in 2007, the City’s planting program has had to quickly evolve.

Annual street tree planting numbers increased from around 6,000 to over 20,000. This led to many opportunities and challenges, including working with new contractors, training a new staff of foresters, and developing clear quantitative metrics to track the number of trees planted. Additionally, we asked, “Where will all of the trees come from?” Prior to the initiation of the million tree planting goal, New York City Parks & Recreation (NYCDPR) procured all the street trees through contractors who did the planting. Working through these intermediaries, NYCDPR got all of the trees from ten to fifteen nurseries within 100 miles of the City. However, we determined that this supply system was not going to meet NYCDPR’s future demand, and it had been speckled with a variety of difficulties.

First and foremost, NYCDPR was not in direct control of the quality of trees, as they were sourced out by the contractors. Second, because there were many nurseries from which trees were being purchased, there were tree quality, pruning, and root ball size inconsistencies. Third, there were many species NYCDPR foresters specified that were unavailable or available in short supply. This shortage ultimately led to significant substitutions and/or bad species recommendations for individual planting sites. Finally, many species that were available were not being grown to the specifications that were most compatible for New York City’s infrastructure. At the forefront of that list was the need for all trees to be limbed to a minimum of five feet (1.5 m).

NYCDPR needed a way of obtaining large quantities of trees that were grown to very specific standards and were of a consistent high quality We brainstormed many potential solutions, including contractual changes to the possibility of growing the trees in-house, but only one option seemed to be cost effective and realistic in such a short time frame: contractual relationships with nurseries. The City would create long-term contracts with nurseries to grow desired species of trees to very exacting standards. After a long and fairly complicated process of navigating through NYC government bureaucracy, tree procurement contracts were created.

Once the contract was created, the next step was getting nurserypersons interested in becoming part of this business arrangement. We cold-called nurseries and visited trade shows to advertise this opportunity-but letting nurseries know the City wanted to buy five thousand trees a year was the easy part. The real challenge was to keep nurserypersons interested once they saw a 100 page document with terms like “upon request,” “chief contracting officer,” and “contract default.” Fast forward a few months and NYCDPR ended up with three fantastic nurseries that are very well qualified to meet our current and future needs. The nurseries we contracted with are Moon Nurseries in Chesapeake City, Maryland, Schichtel’s Nurseries in Buffalo, New York, and Whitman Nurseries of Long Island, NY.

Related Resources:
City Trees- Tree Procurement Contracts: New York City’s Quest for Amazing Trees
Species Selection- Part I: Nursery Selection