Woodland, our City of Trees in Name Only

By Robin Hindery
Woodland, CA (November 25, 2007)- Fernando Munoz, a tree trimmer for Woodland’s Public Works Department, reaches for an outer branch to cut during a tree removal on North Street. The department is responsible for about 6,500 trees in the parkways, city parking lots and landscape areas within the city right-of-way. But the city’s tree programs are stretched paper-thin, and ambitious plans to promote the so-called “urban forest” have made little progress, forcing their authors to seek financial assistance from the state. As a result, some residents are questioning the city’s commitment to its namesake.

Named in the mid-1800s for its dense groves of oak trees, Woodland has proudly proclaimed itself the “City of Trees” ever since, using images of the leafy giants on its official documents and logo.
Bottom Line
“The city tree program is divided into pieces, and nobody at the top is integrating these (pieces) together, so, in essence, there really isn’t much of a city tree program,” said David Wilkinson, president of the private nonprofit Woodland Tree. Volunteers dig in at a recent tree planting event organized by the Woodland Tree Foundation. The nonprofit has planted more than 1,300 trees in and around Woodland since it was founded in 2000, according to its president, David Wilkinson.
Stretched exceedingly thin, the Operations and Maintenance division of Woodland’s Public Works Department employs only three full-time tree trimmers to care for 6,500 trees in the parkways, city parking lots and landscape areas within the city right-of-way, according to division supervisor Rob Sanders. In the early 1990s, the tree staff was three times that size, but fell victim to severe budget cuts, he said.
In the 2007-08 fiscal year, tree maintenance within Public Works will receive slightly more than $488,000, or roughly 2 percent of the department’s total budget of nearly $24.2 million. That tree budget is down more than $44,000 from the previous fiscal year, when extra funding was provided for the removal of a group of deteriorating elm trees, Sanders said.
The budget for maintenance of parks, cemeteries and the city’s various “landscape and lighting assessment districts” this year is about $2,866,000- a slight increase from last year, said Parks Superintendent George Ahlgren. Ahlgren said his staff estimated trees end up receiving about 7 percent of the department’s maintenance resources every year. All told, he predicted his budget appropriation for trees this year would be about $220,600. Spread among 2,000 trees, that’s about $110 each.
Jump ahead to 2005, when the City Council adopted the Sacramento Regional Greenprint, a set of guidelines developed by the Sacramento Tree Foundation to boost urban forest programs throughout the region. The city has already implemented some elements of the Greenprint, such as adoption street tree and park tree protection policies, and sponsorship of community and neighborhood tree plantings, Perkes said.
The remaining Greenprint goals will be accomplished in annual stages, he said. Those include developing a new tree inventory and database, and implementing sustainable funding for urban forest activities. Some feel the effort to accomplish the Greenprint goals has been half-hearted.
The Sacramento Tree Foundation cannot police Greenprint members, but it does its best to interact with city officials and offer guidance towards accomplishing the project’s goals, said Gordon Mann, Greenprint director. “Every (city) is not going to move at the same pace,” he said. “But we try to provide the tools so that when they’re ready to do things, when the stars and planets align, they can move forward.”
In the end, the success of the Greenprint will be in the hands of community members, not city government, Mann said. “A city cannot do this to or for its residents,” he said. “We want the city officials to be the champions (of the project), not the worker bees. Community involvement is how it will have sustainability and meaning.”
The Master Plan
Shortly before signing onto the Greenprint, the Woodland City Council allotted $50,000 to the Urban Forest Master Plan effort. Ideally, the plan would consolidate all tree-related ordinances, standards and planning documents under the guidance of the city’s parks and recreation department, Community Services, and Urban Forestry Commission, Perkes said.
The plan would “provide policies, procedures, strategies, and guidance to more effectively and efficiently manage the urban forest; to achieve long-term, cost-effective sustainability of the existing forest; and pre-plan for the future urban arbor culture,” according to a 2006 document Perkes wrote to solicit plan-of-action proposals from teams of urban forestry experts in the region.
One of the most ambitious elements of the Master Plan is the call for a citywide street-tree inventory. “What we’d like to do is document each tree in Woodland – its species, size, height and health,” Perkes said. “We’d create an online database of photos and information about each tree, using high-tech GIS (Geographic Information System) technology.”
The urban forestry commission’s request for proposals went out in February 2006, but the city only received one, two months later. That plan- compiled by a planning consultant, an arborist consultant and a landscape architect- came with a price tag of $250,000, or five times the amount the City Council was willing to spend, Perkes said.
Perkes and other members of the commission decided to switch gears, and turned to the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, for help. The state has set aside $1.5 million in tree inventory grant money, primarily funds from Proposition 40, a multi-billion dollar water, air, parks and coastal protection bond passed in 2002. The department hopes to announce the grants by the end of November, said John Melvin of the department’s Urban Forestry Program. The grants could be as large as $200,000 per community, but the recipient must match the state funds 50-50, Melvin said.
Perkes said he hopes an inventory and ensuing online database would help take the Master Plan effort out of the shadows and get Woodland residents on board to support it. “I think that’s one way we could get the community aware and excited about urban forestry preservation,” he said. “Forestry is a vital part of the infrastructure of any city, but especially the ‘City of Trees.'”
Thinking and Making Green
Most would agree that “Woodland” has a far better ring to it than “Cementland,” but there are other reasons to support preserving the city’s trees.
For example, 100 trees will remove 14 tons of carbon dioxide and 1,014 pounds of pollutants from the air every year, according to the Center for Urban Forestry Research, located at UC Davis. They also catch rain, leading to cleaner drinking water.
In addition to promoting our health, trees can fatten our wallets, researchers and forestry experts contend. “I’m not sure people realize quite how much trees can help cities, monetarily,” said John Melvin.
On private property, trees add to a home’s sale price and property value, but communities can reap financial rewards from public trees as well. Over a 40-year period, 100 trees will cost an average community $66,000 in planting, removal, irrigation and other costs, the Center for Urban Forestry estimates. But those same trees will bring in $193,000 in benefits, in the form of energy, air quality, water runoff and real estate, researchers said.
All told, that’s a $127,000 payoff. A Tree-friendly Future?… Knock on Wood
For the full article, visit the Woodland Daily Democrat.
Related Resources:
Sacramento Tree Foundation Greenprint Program
Woodland Tree Foundation