(Cold Brook, New York) The New York State Urban and Community Forestry Council, working in conjunction with environmental nonprofit groups, secured $500,000 in state funding for urban forestry in both 2005 and 2006.
The Council is part of a coalition requesting $5 million in state forestry funds in 2007. Four million of these dollars would go for reforestation in four counties in western New York that suffered severe tree damage from early winter storms. One million would be awarded through a competitive application process to localities throughout the state for the development of urban and community forestry management plans, inventories, and trees.
The Council and its partners were first able to obtain state funding in 2003 through the state Environmental Protection Fund. Initially $150,000 was designated for urban and community forestry programs in localities with populations of 65,000 or more.
To press the case for forestry expenditures, Council representatives held a series of meetings with state officials, politicians and members of other non-profit organizations. In 2004, the Council sent surveys to every city and township and most villages throughout the state asking them to detail their tree needs. This survey documented a need for $13 million in urban and community forestry funds. This information helped the Council increase the amount of funds earmarked for these programs.
In 1991, the federal Farm Bill substantially increased the amount of federal funds available for urban and community forestry programs delivered by the U.S. Forest Service from about $2 to $21 million. Agency guidelines for implementing the program required that any state receiving funds form an advisory council to make recommendations.
The New York State Urban and Community Forestry Council was established in 1991 as the state’s advisory body. In 2000, the Council became an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with a mission of planting as many trees as possible in communities throughout the state. The Council currently has two contract staff positions – one for administrative and financial issues and one for programmatic and advocacy matters – and is governed by a 36-member board.
One of the Council’s major goals is to provide an opportunity for networking among its member organizations and partners. Another goal is to promote best management practices for urban forestry through educational efforts.
The council holds an annual statewide urban forest conference in July and produces a statewide newsletter three times a year. It also serves as the advisory group to the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) program for use of federal urban forestry monies.
The Council has been active in advocating for the increase of federal funding for urban and community forestry. Working both on its own and in conjunction with other national and local groups, the Council is supporting a campaign to have federal funding for these programs raised to $50 million.
Several years ago the Council decided it was also important to increase state financing of urban and community forestry programs. While federal funding is important, federal funds cannot address all the needs of the state.
Finding and developing powerful partners
Once the Council decided to seek state funding for urban and community forestry, it needed to determine where budget decisions are made and which groups are influential in the process.
In New York State, funds for urban and community forestry are administered by DEC. Several environmental groups in the state are very powerful in determining what priorities get funded through DEC’s Environmental Protection Fund. Two particularly strong advocacy groups are the Sierra Club of New York and Environmental Advocates of New York.
The Council’s first step was to meet with these groups and educate them on how seeking funds for urban and community forestry also would advance their goals. This educational process took between three and four years. These environmental organizations were more familiar with rural land issues and were not aware of the needs of urban areas. It took time to build a relationship and to identify the common goals shared with urban stakeholders.
Over this period, the Council did extensive networking and allied itself with other strong advocacy partners, including the Environmental Justice Alliance and the New York State Council of Mayors.
Through these partnerships, the Council was able to obtain budget support for urban and community forestry in New York State’s Environmental Protection Fund in 2003. Initial funding was for $150,000. Although this was a small amount of money, it was a significant success for the state urban and community forestry program as it was now “on the list” for programs that would be typically funded. The Council was told that once a program is “on the list,” it tends to stay there.
Documenting the need
As a result of talking to lawmakers and policy advocates, the Council recognized that it needed better information to illustrate the statewide need for the urban and community forestry program.
The Council’s 2004 state survey of every city and township demonstrated a need for at least $13 million for local urban and community forestry programs. This was a very conservative figure because not all of the communities responded. With this information, the Council asked the governor’s office and the appropriate legislative committees for an increase in funds. The data proved very powerful and expenditures were increased to $500,000 in both 2005 and 2006.
The Council plans to improve upon this survey, updating information and seeking a higher response from communities. Although this is an extremely time-consuming task, the Council says that having specific data is key to making its case to decision-makers. Once legislators see their constituencies articulating a particular need, the issue becomes clearer to them.
Where do the funds go?
The first appropriation of $150,000 in 2003 went directly to the DEC, which then offered competitive grants to communities with populations of 65,000 and more. There was no funding in 2004. When the amount was raised to $500,000 in 2005 and 2006, competitive grant funds were split into two equal pots – one for communities of 65,000 or more and the other for any community in the state.
Urban and community forestry is now regularly funded by New York State’s Environmental Protection Fund. Initial funding was in 2003. This amount was increased to $500,000 in both 2005 and 2006.
This year the Council is part of a coalition requesting $5 million in state funds. Four million of these dollars would go for reforestation in four counties in western New York that suffered severe damage from early winter storms. One million would be awarded through a competitive application process to localities throughout the state for the development of urban and community forestry management plans, inventories, and trees.
1. Develop and nurture relationships with organizations that have similar goals. Determine which advocacy groups are powerful in your state, especially those that influence funding for forestry or conservation programs. Find common ground and work together. Spend time educating them on where your needs coincide.
2. Cultivate a harmonious relationship with the state agency responsible for delivering the urban and community forestry program. Be a good partner.
3. Do your research. Spend time documenting the need in your area. The Council’s 2004 needs survey was instrumental in helping it make its case at the executive and legislative levels.
4. Learn the legislative process and budget structure for appropriating and allocating funds in your state. Each state has its own way of doing things. Be an expert about how your state operates. Timing is important. Know when you need to approach people and in what order.
5. Target the right people. Research which committees and staff people are instrumental in making the decisions about urban and community forestry funding.
6. Let other people know how to support your efforts. The Council ran articles in its newsletter describing its efforts and informing readers about whom they should contact if they wanted to support those efforts.
7. Network with other local groups who are interested in urban and community forestry to see how they are advocating for funds in their area. The Alliance for Community Trees is an excellent source for this information.
8. When dealing with federal appropriations, the Council advocates for general program support for the national urban and community forestry program, rather than for funds earmarked to specific projects in New York. This allows the Council to spend more time documenting the need and educating decision-makers rather than competing with like-minded groups.
Nancy Wolf, Program Consultant
New York State Urban & Community Forestry Council
P.O. Box 124
Cold Brook, NY 13324
(c) 2007 Alliance for Community Trees