We're all worn down by “do more with less.” We're expected to embrace this tiring cliché and be grateful we have jobs. For urban foresters the phrase acquires a schizophrenic element.
With climate-related issues at the forefront of legislative actions in concert with the growing emphasis on green infrastructure, the urban forest is finally getting the attention it deserves. Citizens and policymakers alike are summoning urban foresters and municipal arborists to play larger roles in public works and planning projects.
Yet financially strapped municipalities are slashing urban forestry budgets. And many urban forestry managers who just a year ago were hopeful that stimulus funds would help sustain tree maintenance programs, are still waiting for those dollars.
The following are tips from Society of Municipal Arborist members to help weather this year's perfect storm of limited funding, reduced manpower, added duties, and potential legislation.
Public outreach: Get resident support for initiatives and programs through education; use trees to solve problems.
Volunteers: Enlist citizens and partner with nonprofits to provide manpower for small tree pruning, parkway tree maintenance, and other activities.
Interdepartmental support: Couch urban forestry with public safety programs (i.e., sign, signal, and roadway clearance) and public utilities (using trees to reduce air conditioning costs, provide stormwater retention, and lengthen roadway resurfacing intervals).
Grants: As reported in PUBLIC WORKS' “2009 Outlook,” January 2009 issue, the 2008 Farm Bill authorized the Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program to provide matching grants to buy private forestland threatened by conversion to nonforest uses. According to the U.S. Forest Service, this program is in the rulemaking process, and when it becomes available it may benefit municipalities attempting to protect high-priority community forests. For other federal grants see the Web extra on page 50.
Cap and trade: With states and Congress considering bills that include greenhouse-gas cap-and-trade programs, urban foresters may soon be in a position to sell their communities' carbon storage capacity and use the money to continue funding their programs. If a community has local industries subject to cap and trade, it may be able to negotiate directly. That would cut out the middleman and redirect the offset costs directly into the community.
Prove your worth: Inventory, assess, and calculate the monetary value of your urban ecosystem to demonstrate that the benefits are worth the maintenance costs (this can be done with i-Tree software, available for free at www.itreetools.org). Spreadsheet your budget and run different scenarios to assess potential budget cuts and suggest options that would cause the least damage to your program.