The pump is psychologically and financially primed for a new era of urban renewal based on public plantings.

In his effort to make the United States a leader in global climate change and create more livable communities, President Barack Obama wants to re-evaluate transportation funding policies to ensure they take “smart growth” considerations into account. Such a change would offset and, hopefully, reverse the tendency to accommodate urban sprawl by relegating trees and other plants to ever-smaller spaces, such as lots and boulevards.

Initiatives under way by the U.S. Green Building Council will reinforce such policy changes.

The council's revised LEED program, due in 2011, will include landscape criteria based on rating2 metrics developed by the Sustainable Site Initiative, a partnership of the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and the U.S. Botanic Garden. Almost 40 hydrology, vegetation, soils, materials, and human health experts contributed to Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks, which will be released this summer.

In the meantime, the 2008 Farm Bill contains two new funding sources.

Up to $5 million is available to buy equipment to monitor, remove, dispose of, and replace disease- and invasive species-infested trees. Available only to jurisdictions in quarantined areas, Congress hadn't appropriated a specific amount for the Pest and Disease Revolving Loan Fund as of press time.

The Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program provides matching grants to buy private forestland threatened by conversion to nonforest uses. Properties must be accessible to the public and provide economic, environmental, recreational, or educational benefits.

Even with the promise of new funding and presidential support, times remain tight, budgets are shrinking, and urban forestry programs may be among the first to be scrutinized for potential savings.

To show policy-makers how important these programs are to sustainability efforts, the Society of Municipal Arborists suggests managers assess and prioritize potential budget cut implications and make recommendations that shift capital and operating resources accordingly. Have a plan prepared for essential activities based on revenue-neutral or ordinance-driven programs.

Deploying software to manage and quantify the value of green assets also helps justify programs. The i-Tree software suite, for example, offered for free at www.itreetools.org, analyzes urban ecosystem and street tree inventories, and calculates the monetary value of environmental and aesthetic benefits. If your community is part of the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement (www.usmayors.org/climateprotection), such software can be used to help meet goals.

 

To address urban sprawl, educate developers and network with planning and engineering colleagues to balance gray and green infrastructure.

Web Extra

For an example on balancing grayray and green infrastructure, visit the “article links” page under “resources” at www.pwmag.com.

Immune to invasion

Scientists work to develop disease-resistant trees.

In just six years, the emerald ash borer (EAB) went from an emerging pest in Michigan to one of the most significant menaces to North American ecosystems, threatening to wipe out an entire species of trees.

The Ohio State University researchers are working to identify the proteins or metabolites that make ash trees from Asia resistant to the Asian beetle. Meanwhile, the U.S. Forest Service is studying breeding approaches to develop a hybrid between North American and Asian ash species.

“If our approach works we intend to perform backcrosses so that through breeding we get trees that look and act like the North American parent and essentially retain only the resistance from the Asian parent,” says Jennifer Koch, a research biologist with the Forest Service.

Both studies are a long way from bearing fruit. Other studies to watch:

  • The American Chestnut Foundation's effort to restore the tree to its native range. In 1904, an Asian fungal disease killed an estimated 4 billion trees, which once comprised one-quarter of forests in the Eastern seaboard. In 2005 the foundation harvested its first blight-resistant nuts. The foundation anticipates starting reforestation trials by 2010; if successful, this process could set a template for restoring other tree and plant species. For more information, visit www.acf.org.
  • The National Elm Trial, a multistate effort to evaluate and promote commercially available disease-resistant American and hybrid elms. Dutch elm disease was accidentally introduced into the United States from Asia in 1928. Although disease-resistant cultivators are available in nurseries, there's not enough scientific data on growth, form, and pest resistance for these trees to garner broad public acceptance. This study aims to provide that data. Visit http://treehealth.agsci.colostate.edu.
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