Urban Forest Master Plans Take Center Stage

Washington, DC (November 18, 2013) – Cities from Tampa, FL to Palo Alto, CA and Pittsburgh, PA are in the thick of either wrapping up or initiating urban forest master plans for their communities. Long-term planning for a city’s trees is a growing practice to ensure proper stewardship and protection to ensure urban forest viability and benefits in the face of a myriad of community and environmental changes. How does an urban forest master plan guide community tree management, and how are cities taking the “long view”?

Urban treesTampa, FL

The University of Florida is helping Tampa put together an urban forestry plan for the city’s trees that takes the long view–and improves its ability to track the health and vitality of its trees. The first of its kind in Florida, Council members will formally adopt the guide next month. They’ll follow up by adopting ordinances to put certain parts of the program into action.

City officials developed the urban forestry plan with the help of a University of Florida forester who specializes in city trees. It aims to help the city improve its ability to track the health and vitality of its trees, which provide millions of dollars worth of services to the community.

Tampa has about 7.8 million trees which cover about 29% of the city, according to a 2006 University of Florida study. The University of South Florida has also developed a website that lets Tampa residents identify and track the trees in their neighborhoods in hopes of helping the city identify which ones need replacing.

At the heart of the urban forestry program is making sure the right tree goes in the right space — keeping large trees away from sidewalks, for example. It also means replacing trees that aren’t suited to the local climate with those that are. More

Palo Alto, CA

Palo Alto’s urban forest master plan, which is still in development, seeks ways to balance the city’s need to sustain its urban forest in the midst of development and a changing environment. The plan looks to the future and the important role for trees to maintain the city’s quality of life while providing significant economic contributions to the community.

Increasing use of reclaimed and salinated water, conflicts between trees and solar installations, and the changing climate are all being considered in moving an innovative plan forward. As the city replaces trees over time, the master plan will direct the use of more adaptable tree species and techniques that avoid damage to infrastructure and have a lower “thirst rating.”

urban tree canopy street with carsThe master plan analyzed tree benefits, showing the urban forest has a net benefit of more than $4.5 million ($156.93/tree) for right-of-way trees alone. The findings will help shape the types of trees planted in the future to help reduce energy needs and sequester carbon. Palo Alto’s street trees also intercept 42,600,000 gallons of stromwater annually.

Moving forward, the plan will be revised to incorporate protections for trees as urban development increases, as well as ensuring the city’s canopy percentage. More

Pittsburgh, PA

Pittsburgh’s Urban Forest Master Plan used the most up-to-date tools to effectively inventory and assess their street trees and then lay out a road map for long-term management of the city’s urban forest.

“Pittsburgh’s Urban Forest Master Plan: A Road Map for the Effective Management of Our Urban Forest” incorporates a tree inventory, Urban Tree Canopy (UTC) Assessments, i-Tree Eco and i-Tree Streets.

A model for other communities, Pittsburgh’s plan provides detailed information, recommendations, and required resources to effectively and proactively manage and grow the city’s tree canopy. It also offers a shared vision for the future of the urban forest to inspire and engage stakeholders. More

Seattle, WA

Seattle’s Urban Forest Stewardship Plan was adopted in September 2013 as an update to their 2007 Management Plan. The Plan provides a long-term vision for increasing tree canopy cover and the many environmental, social, and economic benefits associated with trees in urban areas. The plan is implemented through actions ranging from tree care to tree give-aways.

The Management Plan establishes four goals for Seattle’s urban forest:

  1. Create an ethic of stewardship about the urban forest among City staff, community organizations, businesses, and residents.
  2. Strive to replace and enhance specific urban forest functions and benefits when trees are lost, and achieve a net increase in the urban forest functions and related environmental, economic, and social benefits.
  3. Expand canopy cover to 30 percent by 2037.
  4. Increase health and longevity of the urban forest by removing invasive species and improving species and age diversity.


Tree lined streetSan Francisco, CA

With nearly 700,000 trees on both public and private property, San Francisco is collaborating with the Department of Public Works and Friends of the Urban Forest to create a plan that will promote the city’s street trees.

Specifically the Plan will address several threats to the long-term health of the city’s trees: a harsh growing environment, insufficient tree canopy, fragmented maintenance structure, inadequate funding, and lack of cohesive vision.

The Urban Forest Plan will identify policies and strategies to proactively manage and grow the City’s street tree population. The goal of the Plan is to create an expanded, healthy and thriving urban forest now and for the future. In conjunction with the Plan, a Street Tree Census and Street Tree Financing Study will also take place. More