The Buzz

What does it mean to be a Tree City USA? -Guest post by Eric Bridges

We recently asked Eric Bridges, President of the West TN Urban Forestry Council, for an overview of Memphis' recent designation as a Tree City USA. His response gave us some great perspective, so we thought we'd share it with you. Thanks, Eric, for all you do for our trees and our city...and for letting us share your insights so others can better appreciate this accomplishment!

There are 4 requirements to become a Tree City:

1. Municipal tree care ordinance. This is an ordinance spelling out how public trees are cared for. Typically they reference proper tree care practices, and only applies to public trees
2. Forester or Tree Board. Most cities have both. My take is that Memphis needs a forestry team, but at least we have the Board.
3. Arbor Day celebration. This has to be celebrated annually and the Mayor signs a proclamation declaring a certain day as Arbor Day for the City.
4. Forestry budget. The City has to spend a minimum of $2 per capita on forestry each year. Larry Smith found that Parks was spending that much on proper tree care in the Parks. 

So, those are the official requirements, but what does being a "Tree City" really mean?  That's harder.

The Arbor Day Foundation says the following, "we all benefit when communities like Memphis place a high priority on planting and caring for trees, one of our nation's most beautiful resources. Trees shade our homes and add beauty to our neighborhoods. They also provide many environmental, economic, and social benefits. We applaud Memphis' officials, employees, and citizens for providing vital care for its urban forest."  --John Rosenow, Chief Executive and founder of the Arbor Day Foundation.

That's got some pretty good stuff in it. From my perspective the program has always been about community pride and recognition. It's a way to get people to notice their urban forest and the benefits it provides. It would be a shame to take that for granted like we did before Dutch Elm Disease.

After Dutch Elm Disease, we put a lot of energy into our urban forestry programs. However, up until the last decade or so, public interest in urban forestry has waxed and waned. But now, with people attuned to climate change and the threat of invasive species like Emerald Ash Borer, Asian Longhorn Beetle, Sudden Oak Death, and others, interest in urban forestry has climbed and remained strong. It wouldn't be right to take pride in something we aren't responsible for and don't maintain. So, the Tree City program helps by reminding us that we have to work to keep this resource healthy and that it's worth the effort. You don't get the award just for having a pretty city; you get the award for managing your urban forest to appropriate standards and at appropriate levels.

Hopefully, this program will lead to Memphis expanding their urban forestry program. According to the American Public Works Association, the average American city the size of Memphis has 22 forestry employees on staff. Memphis has a full time forestry crew of five plus two who work part time in forestry.  Memphis also has a 7 person Tree Board and a very supportive Director of Parks & Neighborhoods.  It's a great start and hopefully the program will grow. We will get there eventually.

-Eric Bridges

Posted by Memphis Botanic Garden at 11:33 AM


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