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 What is Urban Forestry?

What is urban forestry and what do urban foresters do?
Round Rock Leader
Saturday, September 4, 2004
By Emsud Horozovic, The City of Round Rock Forestry Manager

I often get asked what I do for a living and after well meaning individuals hear my job description they usually say, “How cool,” and then immediately follow with the question, “And what is it that you really do?”

Some are confused by words urban and forest next to each other and state, teasingly, that those two words together are an oxymoron.

A fellow staff member told me that she was surprised we hired an urban forester. Having worked with the city for several years, she noted that trees were often removed and that a lot of the land that was left didn’t have many trees on it. “Why were we hiring an urban forester?”, she asked herself. She realizes now that the urban forestry program is proactively reforesting these barren areas, and fighting to keep the older trees we still have. Now she even volunteers to plant trees.

Now, back to our urban forest. It is all that green color you see when you step outside of your home, assuming you do not live in Killeen or on Burnet Road in Austin (sorry). An urban forest is described as all the trees and plants in an urban area where people live, work and play. It is our only connection to nature in cities that are man made environments. Urban forestry usually refers to the programs that are attempting to manage this natural resource in the urban concrete jungle. Would that make us urban foresters contemporary Tarzans?

After being asked this question for so long and listening to colleagues at a meeting last week complain that it is hard to educate people on urban forestry if people do not know even what that means, this article is about to set the record straight.

I always think of urban foresters as dreamers, true stewards of the land and its natural significant resource - trees. Big or small, we love them all. We are in the uphill battle to plant, preserve, proliferate and whatever other verbs you can think of in relation to urban trees.

Some people call us tree huggers and I usually stop that ribbing by introducing myself as “I’m a tree hugger and proud of it.” Somehow being a tree hugger became synonymous with the perennial hippie looking, pot smoking, chain-to-the-tree radical political environmentalist with whom most of the professional foresters have nothing to do. Regardless, we do care more for trees than most people.

There are all kinds and sorts of breeds among our tree huggin’ brethren. You can identify us because we constantly look upward and start most of our sentences with, “What a beautiful tree.” We are optimists who plant trees for the future knowing very well that we will never sit in their full grown glorious shade in a hundred years from now when those oaks or elms become mature and majestic, if they make it. The urban forester is a someone who, despite drought, floods, vandalism, deer rubbing on bark, beavers (yes, you read it right), nutrias, lack of tree funds and resources goes out with volunteers on many cold and rain or hot and humid Saturdays and plants trees.

Now, what do urban foresters do for real, professionally? Well we organize educational sessions, such as how to hug a tree, tree huggin’ one on one, and bark rubbin’. Other people exchange gifts, foresters bring each other leaves and fruits of unusual trees to identify and challenge each other. I have your attention now.

Here is a sobering thought. Throughout America’s cities, more shade trees are dying than are being replaced. This is due to development, storms, and natural death. Scarce financial resources are being wasted on planting of poor trees or improper maintenance. Life-extending practices such as pruning and disease control are neglected due to insufficient staff.

The phrase “urban forest” is not a buzz word, nor a new idea. It surfaced nationally in 1967 when the Citizen Committee on Recreation and National Beauty recommended to President Lyndon Johnson that an urban and community forestry program begin in the United States Forest Service. Congress passed the Urban Forestry Act in 1972 to provide technical assistance, training, and research about trees in the urban environment. The U.S. Forest Service awarded more than $825,000 in 1999 to benefit urban and community forests. The city of Round Rock has received over $120,000 in matching grants from the Texas Forest Service since 2000 to fund professional salaries and the city tree nursery.

Urban forestry is a highly specialized field within the professions of natural resource management and forestry. Urban foresters use the science of tree and resource management to replenish, value, defend, improve, preserve, and sustain trees in community settings.

Urban forestry requires knowledge in many fields. The professional forester must be able to interpret what engineers and architects have designed and how those designs will impact trees. Unlike these professionals, the urban forester is educated to view trees collectively and to manage trees as an ecosystem, taking into consideration specific biological, social, and economic conditions. This broad managerial view enables the professional urban forester to help taxpayers make wise decisions related to existing and newly planted trees.

Here are some of the specific tasks that urban foresters provide to the municipality:

Select, plant, and maintain trees of good quality and suited for the site where they will be planted

Educate the public on tree planting, disease, and the environmental benefits of trees, particularly minimizing the “heat island” effect

Involve volunteers in tree plantings and advocacy
Manage relevant ordinances related to tree care and protection
Provide guidance on appropriate tree care, aesthetics, and economic impacts at planning and zoning meetings and with appropriate city staff
Inspect and ensure quality tree plantings in new commercial and residential developments
Protect existing trees during construction
  In our own city, in addition to the tasks listed above, we:

  Manage brush recycling and mulch center, including Christmas tree recycling and seedling give-away program

Provide residential curbside brush pickup
Respond to storm damage and emergency tree related issues
Remove and prune trees in the city right of way and parks and public property
Manage the city tree nursery
Plant and maintain memorial tree groves
Sponsor the annual Arbor Day and Tree Planting Celebration in March
Assist neighborhood associations with tree planting and tree care needs
What are some exemplary urban forestry programs? Chicago has wonderful examples of preservation through their Forest Preserve system. Throughout greater Chicago, in areas developed in the 1930s+, large sections of land were preserved as forests. These areas often have dense forest growth, streams, picnic areas, walking and bike paths, and bridal paths. Organized recreational activities are minimized to allow preservation of once-pristine forests. And of course, there is Central Park in New York and Zilker Park in Austin. Seattle, Portland, Milwaukee, and Savannah are other cities with excellent urban forestry programs. In Round Rock, Old Settlers Park at Palm Valley has beautiful walking areas along the stream and Memorial Park near the interstate is very heavily wooded.

  The next time you look at your trees or your neighbor’s trees, keep in mind that they are part of a larger ecosystem that needs constant husbandry to continue to add health and beauty to Round Rock. That is where my loyalty lies. Heh! I’m not a husband as I’m responsible to all the trees in the city. I wonder if my mom would buy into that reasoning for not being married.

Back to being serious. What type of education does it take to become an urban forester? In my case, I have a bachelor’s degree in Forestry Engineering from the University of Zagreb, Croatia. Our new arborist, Heather Brewer, has a bachelor’s degree in Forestry from Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches. After a degree is awarded, it takes about 5 years to truly understand the interrelatedness among the economic, political, and aesthetic aspects of the tree ecosystem in a community. Urban forestry is a growing profession, worthy of consideration by high school students as they consider career options.

Many of us live to make an impact or impression when others dream of making a difference. I hope and dream of making one-tenth of a difference that the main character of Jean Giono’s book, "The Man Who Planted Trees," made by planting trees in Provence after WWI.

Our forestry division has become so well known as a fast growing, complete program that the State Tree Conference will be held at the Round Rock Marriott Sept. 15-17. You thought one tree hugger in the area was a challenge, just wait until over 300 tree huggers, exhibitors, and supporters converge on our city to help me spread the tree gospel.

Keep Round Rock green while growing y’all!

City of Round Rock | 221 East Main Street, Round Rock, Texas 78664 | Phone: (512) 218-5400
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