It Takes a Stewardship Village: Effect of Volunteer Tree Stewardship on Urban Street Tree Mortality Rates

By Steven Boyce
New York, NY (January 1, 2011)- This report describes a five-year urban forestry stewardship initiative to foster volunteer street tree stewardship within an urban neighborhood. Regular measurements of the living trees were taken, every tree added by planting and every tree removed due to death or accident was recorded. Observing differences in street tree mortality rates between street trees that were stewarded assessed the effect of this stewardship initiative and those in the area that were not.

The overall mortality rate among street trees without stewards was more than three times that of street trees with stewards. This result supports the view that community-wide citizen stewardship of street trees in highly urbanized areas can be effective for promoting street tree viability, despite the many human and environmental stresses on urban street trees.
Intrigued by the potential relationship between stewardship and street tree survival, the non-profit group Friends of Greenwich Street (FGS) conducted a census of its neighborhood street trees in 2003-2004. FGS is a volunteer-centered group with two areas of focus: to beautify and maintain the
Greenwich Street pedestrian promenade, and expand the Triangle Below Canal (TriBeCa) urban forest. The FGS Board initiated a project to help expand the study area’s urban forest canopy, and agreed to undertake a ten-year plan to help expand its street tree population from 503 to 900. FGS sought to match the study area’s street trees with tree stewards committed to fostering their street tree’s health and longevity. The overall vision was to approach the City’s average of 6% urban forest canopy from street trees in the study area by 2015. During this study period, such street tree rescues reduced street tree mortality of established street trees by at least 24%.
Resources should be allocated judiciously between the front-end planting stage and the backend tree stewardship maintenance period to achieve such an optimal resource mix and through this, a maximum tree canopy level.
Effective strategies for optimizing urban forest canopy levels should consider including tree maintenance programs that successfully promote and facilitate volunteer stewardship of street trees in coordination with sufficient professional tree services for tree threat rescues and interventions.
Related Resources:
Cities and the Environment- It Takes a Stewardship Village: Effects of Volunteer Tree Stewardship on Urban Street Tree Mortality Rates
Friends of Greenwich Street