In recent years, cities and towns have come to realize that trees provide a wide range of benefits to people living in urban or suburban environments. In addition to their aesthetic value, trees improve air and water quality, reduce noise, provide cooling shade that helps conserve energy, and provide food and habitat for birds and other wildlife. Conservationists and government officials now regard trees and shrubs, whether growing in public parks or schoolyards, beside roadways, or on residential property, as part of a larger entity known as the community forest.
Ensuring that this valuable public resource remains healthy and vigorous, so that it will benefit generations to come, requires that communities not only develop thoughtful strategies for managing their forests, but also secure the resources needed to maintain and improve publicly owned trees and encourage wise forestry practices on private land.
Steps toward a comprehensive management plan include assessing the status of the community forest, determining what the community wants from its forest, and figuring out how to attain those goals.
For example, a 1998 statistical survey of Arlington street trees showed that 40% of these trees are Norway maples and that 44% of all street trees are in fair to poor condition. At present, the Department of Public Works removes about 125 street trees each year, but only has the resources and manpower to replace about 100 trees annually. As a result, the community forest is steadily losing trees. And this does not take into account the number of mature shade trees being removed by homeowners, felled as residential lots are subdivided and new homes constructed, or as small order homes are “mansionized.”
The net loss of trees could be reversed by increasing funding for street tree replacement (through public-private partnerships, seeking grants, etc.), educating the public about sound tree removal and replacement practices, providing incentives for planting, or instituting a permitting requirement for removal of large or old trees. The diversity of Arlington’s community forest could be improved by educating residents about desirable species to plant and where they may be purchased.
These are only a few of many options that can be used to maintain, protect, and enhance the community forest.
In 1998, the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) evaluated Arlington’s community forest. Their review and recommendations, as well as the results from a town-wide tree inventory, can be found in their report [~4MB PDF].
For more information, visit: