Analysis of Tree Establishment Strategies Used by Community Tree Planting Programs

By Daniel C. Burcham
Newark, DE (July 1, 2009)- Community tree planting programs work to improve local and regional communities by managing trees in constructed landscapes. Trees planted by these programs provide many benefits accrued within the local ecology and valued by city residents. Although adequate research exists describing the nature, extent, and valuation of the amenities provided by urban trees, management strategies used to sustain these benefits is an area requiring additional investigation. This research examined tree establishment strategies used by community tree planting programs, which includes the selection, acquisition, and installation of trees.

The programs included in this research contain several promising elements worth noting. Although the programs included in this study were driven to achieve diverse goals, several common strengths and needs existed within organizations vastly different in their composition, focus, and scale of activity. Community tree planting programs, at their most basic level, strive to improve local communities by integrating vegetation into constructed landscapes largely devoid of such amenities. Although program’s tree establishment strategies diverge from this common goal, programs design their respective tree planting processes to achieve specific amenities provided by urban trees that provide direct benefit for local residents.
Although every program did not recognize a formal mission-statement, programs should work collaboratively with their staff, local community, and other stakeholders to develop a mission statement for their community tree planting program. The mission statement should be widely recognized and accepted by those individuals and groups of people directly affected by the urban forest, and the resulting priorities should be actively incorporated into the program in specific strategies in the tree establishment process achieving desired goals. Although it may not be appropriate for programs to establish a formal mission statement, this research suggests that it may benefit the program to determine formalized goals. The formalized goals provide regular direction and focus for the daily activities of these community tree planting programs, especially when they are comprehensible, justified, and widely accepted by all program stakeholders.
Several programs in this thesis research indicated that adequate funding correlated directly with their goal-attainment. Although there was no consistency in the mixture of funding sources utilized by these programs, programs suggested that adequate funding could be obtained through a transparent and consistent expense justification. These programs built credibility through maintaining accurate records and providing timely information to their funding sources. The costly materials, professional expertise, and labor required in ambitious tree establishment processes must be offset through considerable budget allocations, and these programs must aggressively compete with other municipal programs and services to obtain sufficient funding. Program leaders should commit to collecting information describing their expenditures and provide reports comparing cost efficiency and relative benefits obtained through these expenses.
Communities, and its residents, are the foundation of every program. Individuals and groups of people provide the support, funding, and recognition sustaining every community tree planting program. In several instances, program interviews revealed that they frequently focused on people and urban forest amenities enhancing their lives. Correspondingly, individuals have demonstrated increased interested in the environment surrounding their communities, and these people have offered their time and other resources to improve the condition of this natural resource in their neighborhood. Programs should welcome opportunities to benefit individuals, groups of people, and communities within their programs through community engagement and volunteer integration. Previous research has demonstrated the positive effect of such inclusion, and this thesis research supports socially motivated tree establishment processes and the accompanying rewards offered to people.
Research interview programs and survey responses consistently indicated the value and utility of program regulations and specifications. These documents improve the quality of tree establishment by ensuring that professionals and homeowners consider critical issues when planting trees, and they offer excellent quality assurance during the tree production and installation process. These components of tree establishment were consistently identified as problem areas in research interviews, and professionals suggested that these documents improved quality currently lacking in tree establishment. These documents also elucidate the justifications for the way in which things are done; community members and volunteers frequently express interest, even disagreement, with the way trees are established in their communities and these documents provide clear logic for its design. These documents should be accompanied by a clear method of enforcement, which ensures that the program’s standards and regulations will be utilized.
In addition to structuring the tree establishment process to reflect mission-related objectives, programs should structure this process in a lucid format to increase acceptance and support of their work. When selecting sites for planting, programs should use a simple, clear method that considers environmental and social needs of their community. In site assessment and species selection, the perspective of community members should be incorporated in an efficient manner. Research interview participants often viewed this as a time-consuming process; however, the proven rewards of community involvement suit the goals of nearly all programs and should be supported in a way that does not inhibit the tree establishment workflow.
Interaction with wholesale nurseries viewed in this thesis research suggested the imperative nature of relationship-based interaction. Although the research interviews and surveys provided clear information on the difficulty experienced during tree acquisition, and the numerous ways in which programs sought to resolve this issue, it appeared essential that programs build rapport between themselves and commercial nurseries in order to overcome obstacles during tree production, harvesting, and transport. Specifications detailing the desired tree production standards were only moderately successful when coldly mandated by community tree planting programs. Instead, those experiencing greater success provided appropriate incentives and support to elicit a preferable nursery response. It appears, similarly, that mutually beneficial relationships may be required between programs and landscape contractors in order to obtain desired installation standards.
Lastly, volunteer effort and support in the tree establishment process appeared to be one of the greatest assets of community tree planting programs. Several observed tree planting events attracted dozens of community members interested in the merits of planting trees. However, programs should develop formal methods for handling such volunteers and, especially, providing them with accurate, clear information on the activity. Citizens consistently exhibited sincere interest in the tree planting process and it was frequently outside the capacity of the program to provide enriching, useful information. Programs should carefully plan demonstrations and provide accurate information to arm their volunteers with the knowledge required to expand and steward the urban forest at a high quality level. These volunteer tree planting events present innumerable opportunities for building community and financial support, and programs should take advantage of the local human resources willing to commit themselves to their mission.
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Urban Forest Management for Multiple Benefits: An Analysis of Tree Establishment Strategies Used by Community Tree Planting Programs