By Keith Wood
It is estimated that 138 million acres of trees comprise the community forests in cities and towns across the United States. These trees provide direct benefits to more than 220 million people—or 83% of the U.S. population.
Urban forests account for 39% of the nation’s tree cover and provide critical green infrastructure and countless benefits to communities and their residents, including $18.3 billion in annual cost savings related to reductions in air pollution, energy use, and greenhouse gases. Community tree canopy also helps mitigate the effects of extreme weather and climate change, boost home values and tax revenue by up to 15% , and provide shade, stormwater capture and filtration, and a sense of well-being.
State-led Urban and Community Forestry (U&CF) programs help keep trees and forests in our communities healthy by providing critical assistance to those in charge of establishing and managing local urban and community forestry resources.
In addition to state U&CF programs, there is a federal U&CF program housed within the USDA Forest Service’s State and Private Forestry mission area. This federal program is funded by Congress through the annual appropriations process and administered by state forestry agencies. For a number of states, federal U&CF program dollars are absolutely essential to providing U&CF assistance and services to communities. In every state, forestry agencies match federal U&CF dollars at least 2-to-1.
Growing, selecting, planting, maintaining, and removing trees can be very expensive. A primary goal of urban forestry management programs is to maximize the benefits trees provide over time, while minimizing maintenance costs. Ultimately, towns and cities want to realize a net positive rate of return on tree planting and care investments.
While many communities are able to budget and care for trees on public property, often times the trees on private property—which can constitute up to 80% of a community’s urban forest—don’t receive the same level of care. As a result, many privately owned trees succumb to age, drought stress, insects and disease, and other environmental stressors more often and more quickly.
Projects undertaken with 2021 Urban Forest Resilience grant support in Montana, Kansas, Minnesota, Vermont, and Puerto Rico show how state forestry agency programs are helping to minimize maintenance costs and maximize urban forest benefits across ownership boundaries. NASF has also profiled other state U&CF initiatives in Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, Virginia, Oregon, California, Wisconsin, and Maine.
Every state has a U&CF program. And you can be sure that as more tools and information resources become available—like the Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool, the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool, urban heat island index maps, and Tree Equity scores—state U&CF programs will continue to provide tree planting and tree care assistance to the neighborhoods that need it most.
Interested in learning more about U&CF and all its benefits? Check out the one-pagers linked above or reach out to NASF U&CF Committee staffer Keith Wood.