Nancy Hughes Talks State Urban Forestry Councils

San Rafael, CA (December 2, 2013) – Nancy Hughes, executive director of the California Urban Forests Council (CaUFC) since 2005, is working along with her board to move the organization towards a new focus on advocacy and outreach on behalf of urban forests, including the “Invest from the Ground Up” campaign. In our interview, Nancy shares her insights on the role of State Urban & Community Forestry Councils and the impact her organization is having on urban forests in California. Here’s our interview:

Nancy HughesACTrees: First, tell us a little about the origins of State Urban and Community Forest Councils and their role?

NH: The history for most of the State Councils stems from former President George H.W. Bush’s “America the Beautiful” campaign, a national tree planting and forest improvement program administered by the Department of the Agriculture. Bush described the funding and reasoning behind the campaign in a 1990 speech. Every state is different and is investing in varying ways. CaUFC, which started in 1968, is the oldest in the nation.

ACTrees: How is CaUFC organized, what are its goals, and what types of resources does CaUFC offer the community and affiliated forestry councils?

NH: Our mission, vision, and goals are being revised now but in general we champion trees to enhance prosperity and quality of life in California’s communities. California has had strong leadership in the State through CalFire’s urban forestry program, which supports the strength and growth of the industry overall through grant programs and regional staffing.

Our role as the Council has been as an educator and a convener. We look to address areas of need. We are also working on policy and advocacy in Sacramento. We have seven regional councils in the state and act as fiscal agent for them and offer a modest amount of funding each year to help them with their programs locally.

caufc logoACTrees: How is CaUFC involved in advocacy for community trees at both the state and national levels? What’s the value of this?

NH: We’re working on a number of initiatives in California to ensure urban and community forestry are represented in relevant legislation. Cap and Trade is the big, important issue with global ramifications over time.

We advocate for urban forests with several partners–California ReLeaf, Local Government Commission, California Urban Streams Partnership, California Native Plant Society, Trust for Public Land, ASLA, APA, and more.

On the national level, we follow the lead of ACTrees on national advocacy issues and have made the trip to Washington, DC each Spring for ACTrees Policy Summit. We also reach out to our state officials while at home when the need arises.

The value of advocacy is educating decision makers regarding why urban trees and greening are vitally important and need to have continued support. Our industry still gets lost in the noise of politics and still struggles with pinpointing the compelling messaging that will turn the tide, though things are changing.

invest from the ground up logoACTrees: Tell us more about CaUFC’s “Invest From the Ground Up” campaign. What’s its purpose, and what successes have you seen so far?

NH: The overall goal of the “Invest From the Ground Up” campaign is to increase public awareness and community involvement in tree planting and green infrastructure projects to improve the quality of life in our communities.

We recently released a video “Community Tree Success” featuring real-life, inspiring stories of how trees have improved the lives of individuals and communities by improving a business’s bottom line, improving health and wellness, and revitalizing a neighborhood.

Through the campaign, we’ve worked directly in four California cities in 2013: Albany, Bakersfield, East Hollywood and Santee. Well-crafted local campaigns coupled with marketing and collateral materials that mobilize citizen involvement can lead to remarkable changes.

Our 2013 successes includes 180 degree change in attitude toward tree planting and care programs by the City of Bakersfield, the request in Albany from homeowners for more than 300 new street trees, and a growing understanding (25% increase) in East Hollywood that caring for trees increases business.

ACTrees: A number of State Urban & Community Forestry Council representatives recently met at ACTrees 2013 conference in Pittsburgh, PA. What was the purpose of that gathering, and what do you see as the value of State Councils having a forum through ACTrees to network and share?

NH: It was great to gather with other State Urban & Community Forestry Council reps during ACTrees Day to really just begin a dialogue. Going forward, we want to share information and best management practices for growth and strength. We also want to join together to advocate for continued support for this national program and the benefits that the individual states derive.

ACTrees: You’re on the Board of ACTrees. What value does CaUFC receive from ACTrees membership and engagement with its network of member and program partner organizations?

NH: Here’s my list of what I value about CaUFC’s membership in ACTrees and connecting with its network:

1. Camaraderie
2. Big picture visionaries; common vision
3. Can-do personalities; action oriented
4. Power in numbers
5. Professional staff support
6. Desire for positive change

Nancy Hughes’s career in urban and community forestry stems back to her love of the natural world and to horticultural work begun in college. Hughes also co-founded and led, as a board member then executive director, San Diego People for Trees, a nonprofit organization addressing green infrastructure issues in greater San Diego. Her efforts and influence helped see the planting of over 30,000 trees through community-based projects, while working with elected officials to address policy for long-term positive change. In 2005 Nancy began work with the California Urban Forests Council (CaUFC). As executive director, she has helped to shift the organization towards a new focus on advocacy, and participated locally with seven regional councils to address policy issues with Sacramento decision makers and elected officials. Learn more about CaUFC .