Programs designed to care for urban forests

By Amy Joi O’Donoghue
Santa Clara, UT (December 26, 2010)- Towering sycamores planted decades ago line this city’s main thoroughfare, providing a sheltering canopy for pioneer-era structures and modest bungalows.

This “urban forest” is now being cared for under a program that is the first of its kind in southern Utah- a “Community Forest Management Plan” that joins the efforts of the city with the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.
Formal adoption of the plan happened earlier this month and followed an inventory of the city’s tree population and the establishment of a municipal tree nursery. In addition, a $5,000 grant awarded by the division will help to restore and improve the community’s arboretum.
“Nationally, we have seen a lot of states doing a good job of managing urban forests, but in the West it is just starting to catch on,” said Kelly Washburn, an urban forester with the division. Santa Clara, she added, has a “significant” urban forestry canopy, dominated by large, mature trees. “It is particularly known for its main thoroughfare, which is lined with American sycamore trees that are quite old and are just beautiful.” The inventory documented publicly-owned trees in places like parks, parking strips, on municipal property and open spaces.
“The program has three overarching goals,” Washburn said. “First, we want to care for and conserve our existing trees and the tree environment in Santa Clara and we want to prepare and enhance Santa Clara’s forest for the future. We can do that by planting trees and developing areas that could have trees.” All this adds to a city’s “green infrastructure” and works to make the community more livable, Washburn said. “Trees promote walkable neighborhoods, help in the reduction of crime, lower levels of stress and add to a community’s beauty,” she said. Washburn said the division wants to work with communities across the state to develop community forestry programs and conduct tree inventories.
In Farmington, the city’s GIS specialist, Matt McCullough, spent six months completing an exhaustive inventory of its trees. And while anyone familiar with Farmington is aware of its healthy population of trees- the sycamore is the city’s emblem- even McCullough was surprised when the final inventory came in at 1,500 city-maintained trees. “You would look at a park and think there might be 30 trees in that park and there ends up being 75,” he said. “You don’t realize how many there are.”
The inventory includes a database that tracks a tree’s diameter, its height, the width of its crown spread, recommended maintenance and any conflicts with infrastructure – such as proximity to utility lines or if a root system is damaging sidewalks. The program also allows for the documentation of the tree’s health, including disease or insect infestation problems. McCullough said the software, called i-Tree, calculates the actual dollar value and benefits that trees provide.
“That helps city councils and decision makers in understanding the value of trees…Once we do an inventory, we plug our numbers into this software and it gives us a good idea of the dollar benefit that trees provide. Rather than just saying trees are beautiful and we like having them, it puts a dollar value on them.” Some cities, such as Brigham City, have had well-established urban forestry programs for years, and as the Tree City USA program continues to grow, more cities across Utah will earn that designation. The Farmington inventory was completed in conjunction with the city receiving the award this year. Logan became the first city in Utah to earn the designation 25 years ago, followed by Brigham City a year later. There are 70 Tree Cities in Utah, according to the program.

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Deseret News: Programs designed to care for urban forests