No matter where you live, there’s a good chance there’s a tree nearby. Even the most densely populated communities in the state contain a surprising number of street trees. Many people grow trees in their yards, most public parks have trees, and stands of trees may be found wherever a lot is left undeveloped. Together these trees may be thought of as an urban forest or, if your community isn’t considered “urban”, then as a community forest. Look carefully at a Google Maps satellite image of your community. Zoom in and you will see that the trees form a network of branches and leaves covering a significant amount of land. These trees are an important and valuable resource. Trees provide ecosystem services that actually help improve your community.
Trees save energy by providing shade that can help cool buildings and cities. They improve air quality by removing carbon dioxide and green-house gases from the atmosphere and storing them in leaves and branches. They capture nutrients and particulate matter in rainfall. Their leaves and branches catch and hold pollutants before they can be swept into rivers and streams. They reduce storm water runoff by taking up and holding water, like sponges. Their roots prevent soil erosion and sedimentation. Trees strengthen the local sense of place, enhance property values, improve business, increase local tax revenues, and generally make people more comfortable. Trees make communities more walkable by providing shelter and visual interest. They buffer incompatible uses and make communities more attractive. They give urban residents an opportunity to commune with a bit of nature. Trees also provide habitat for a wide range of wildlife, insects, birds, micro-organisms, and even other plants, bringing life into areas that might otherwise be only concrete, brick and asphalt.
URBAN/COMMUNITY FOREST MANAGEMENT PLANS
The trees in your community are a valuable natural resource, but protecting, maintaining and enhancing this resource is not without some cost. Most community public works departments spend public funds every year on tree planting, tree removal, pruning, emergency cleanup, inspection, and administration of the urban forest. The management of a forest can be challenging. Given the physical characteristics of trees, the forces of nature and the impacts of severe weather events, forest managers must protect public safety while balancing the recommendations of experts, the wishes of elected officials, the needs of citizens, liability concerns, and the limitations of staff and budget. Forest management planning can help them to increase efficiency, improve safety, establish budgets, document cost to benefit ratios, track progress, and engage in long range planning toward community goals for the forest.
Most forest management plans contain at least the following elements:
1. Tree inventory data and analysis, done by counting or by statistical analysis,
2. Tree mapping and data management, often done with a software app such as iTREE,
3. Tree risk reduction/emergency storm response plan, actions to take before and after storms
4. Tree board or advisory council, to assist in making difficult resource decisions
5. Public relations and education, to help people understand the need for action to protect the urban/community forest,
6. Urban forest cost/benefit
analysis, to compare program costs with the value of the ecosystem services
provided to the community by the forest.
To learn more about the forest cover in RI, check out this report.