Our urban forests provide us with important benefits to our quality of life. Trees provide shade, clean air, stormwater infiltration, increased property values, and wildlife habitat. However, urban forests are also especially vulnerable to novel pests, warming winters, and increasing precipitation. Municipalities can take steps now to maintain, expand, and improve our urban forests for future generations.
Effective urban forestry starts with a plan. Taking the time now to understand the nature of your urban forest, likely risks, and future goals will lead to the most cost-effective and beneficial future forest. The first step is to find out what you have.
A tree inventory will help you understand the species present in your community, as well as the condition of your trees. This is important because some species – like ash – are becoming more susceptible to pests and other risks. Likewise, you may find trees that are already damaged or stressed and dangerous to the public, or an excess number of older trees that may naturally die soon. Tree inventories can be conducted with different levels of detail depending on the ultimate goals.
For most of the cities in our district, the DNR conducted a drive-by survey of the tree species present in 2010. This may be sufficient for some planning, and especially useful as a starting point for a more detailed survey. Access the survey results here.
Ely and Hibbing participated in a pilot program at the University of Minnesota using volunteers to measure the size and health of selected trees, in addition to species. We recommend this method where possible to find the most complete information about your urban forest with the lowest cost.
A management plan should identify the forestry goals for the community and how to achieve them. Useful goals might be reducing vulnerability to novel pests, improving forest cover in disadvantaged neighborhoods, taking community input on the plan, or removing hazardous trees. Steps to achieve the goals could include specific planning for favored tree species, nursery establishment or other tree procurement, community engagement strategies and events, and schedules for other activities. Usually the plan does not go to the extent of identifying funding sources, although it is a good idea to understand what the costs and benefits are of your plan, and whether it is realistic for your community. For a good example plan from a small Minnesota city, see the attached document from Marine on St. Croix. This plan took an extra step of calculating the value of their trees’ ecosystem services. This is not necessary, but helps to communicate the benefits of the community forest. For more information on the technical content of a good management plan, see The Road to a Thoughtful Street Tree Master Plan