Chapter 1: The Urban Forest Possible

The Urban Forest Possible

What is a forest? A forest is made up of trees, of course, but it's also the plants— including fungi and microflora such as lichen—that grow under and around the trees. It's the birds and animals; the bugs and microorganisms; the air; the streams, rivers, and lakes; the rain, fog, and snow; the soil, the rocks, the mountains, and the minerals. It is the products of the forest: the fresh air, clean water, protected soil, recreation, fish, game, edible seeds and nuts, and of course fiber, both timber and pulp.

The forest creates less tangible products as well, which are rarely valued and hard to quantify. These include wilderness and wildness; solitude, emotional and physical restoration, beauty, nature, and a reconnection with one's spirit and spirituality as well as one's sense of adventure.


You can guage a country's wealth, its real wealth, by its tree cover. 
                                  RICHARD ST. BARBE BAKER



It's right before dawn. You slip out of bed, pull on your sweats, and go for a walk through the forest. The birds get up just before you to herald the sunrise. It's hard to see them, but they're everywhere in the lacy and varied canopy overhead. The cacophony of sound is bracing. The air too is crisp, fresh, and clear. You take a deep sniff. Is that wet pine leaves or eucalyptus? There's a rustle in the tree above. A squirrel leaps three feet, clutching an acorn in its teeth. How peaceful and calm it is here! You feel nurtured and relaxed, yet delightfully exhilarated. What a way to start the day! There's a new smell—of bacon frying and coffee brewing. It's feeding time for the dominant animal species of this, the urban forest.


Many agencies have spent years trying to define it. Most differ somewhat in their opinions, but they generally agree on what constitutes an urban forest: trees and vegetation in and around a town or city environment.

In the city, the only part of the forest managed by public agencies is that which grows on public land such as streets, highways, parks, and public buildings. But like the natural forest, the urban forest is actually an entire ecosystem. All areas—private homes, condos, apartments, roof gardens, commercial and retail property (including their parking lots and landscaped areas), flood-control channels, hillsides, utility rights of way, abandoned rail lines and the edges of active lines, airports, and spandrels (the no-man's-land open spaces covered by trees, weeds, or trash)—are parts of the urban forest. It is a whole system. If a disease infects the trees on your street, it will likely spread to the vegetation around your home, and vice versa. You can't effectively help the urban forest without dealing with the whole, including factors outside your city and somewhat outside your control. If your water is imported, weather patterns hundreds of miles away might have an impact on you. Likewise, laws and public policies legislated thousands of miles away can affect your forest.


I never saw a disconcerted tree. They grip the ground as though they liked it, and though fast rooted, they travel about as we do. They go wandering forth in all directions with every wind, going and coming like ourselves, traveling with us around the sun two million miles a day. 
                                                                                       JOHN MUIR


An urban forest would function like a rural forest if it weren't for the rather inconvenient (for the trees) existence of the city and its human activity. Because the natural cycles that guarantee its functioning have been broken, the urban forest needs us to survive. For example, new trees are always being planted in natural forests through the process of natural seeding. There is a mix of ages of trees. When older trees die, the maturing younger ones are right there to fill in. Since concrete and the lack of a natural ecosystem prevent trees from reseeding themselves in most parts of the urban forest, it becomes our job to constantly plant new trees. We must interplant along our streets and in our parks to guarantee that there's a generation ready to succeed our old beauties. It's the same story with nutrients, water, and pest control; we must provide that which does not occur naturally in cities.


Elm Action
When Dutch Elm Disease hit Minneapolis, Don Willeke, lawyer and cofounder of the Twin Cities Tree Trust, mobilized a massive citizen lobby that resulted in a state matching fund of $60 million to help cities organize a war against the disease. Most other stricken cities lost nearly all their trees, but by acting quickly, the people of Minneapolis slowed the spread of the disease and saved nearly half of their old elms. They have also planted nearly 1 million large trees in the past fifteen years to ensure a dense urban forest canopy. According to Don, the key was to involve politicians: "People underestimate their power to move government to action. They think as long as they're doing tree work, they don't need to get their hands dirty with politics." During the effort, citizens visited their representatives to plead for the trees. Now 100,000 mature elms lining the streets of Minneapolis stand as testimony that their strategy worked.


Take a Peek

Perhaps the best way to view your urban forest is to look at it from above. If you're afraid of taking off or landing, checking out your forest is a great airplane activity for those tense sixty seconds! For a longer, more studied view, find the tallest building in town, a good hillside, or a detailed aerial photo. Notice the elements that we label city: the buildings, streets, parking lots, cars, and freeways. Now look at the forest instead of the city. The trees are probably obvious, but what about the meadows and clearings? Lawns, gardens, parks, parkways, golf courses, and cemeteries play a major role in the city forest, along with the wildlife, birds, bugs, and bees.

Now that you've mentally checked it out, what have you found? Was your city carved out of the forest, or was the forest planted into your city? If you don't have much of a forest at all, then your role is clear. You need to help create it wisely and establish it firmly. If your city or community is blessed with heavy forest cover, your job is just as magical, only different. How old are the trees? How well have they been maintained? Is there an inventory on them? What's the replacement plan? What's the ratio of trees lost to trees planted each year? (The national average is four trees lost for every tree planted.) Trees grow old and die. Disaster strikes communities who've become complacent about tree cover and have dropped planting from their list of priorities. Can a tiny sapling adequately replace a 100-year-old elm? Foresight will keep your community shaded in the manner to which it has become accustomed.

Who is taking care of your forest? Who's the guardian of the whole ecosystem? Who's monitoring what's happening? Who's reporting what to whom, and when? Where do government agencies, landscape professionals, and gardeners go for reliable information on what to do? How and where do lay people plug themselves in? Are there gaps between that which the agencies are able to manage well and that which is clearly the jurisdiction of private individuals? If you've never really seen the forest from this perspective before, you've probably not clearly been able to see your stewardship role.


Trees Release Me
Trees can't be used as the scapegoat for unrepentant polluters. For instance, although many studies have shown trees to be valuable as sinks for trace contaminants—trees lining freeways are especially valuable in absorbing lead and exhaust fumes—we need to consider what happens to the leaves after they've taken up particulate matter from the air. If leaves are removed and burnt, the contaminants end up back in the atmosphere. If they're buried in landfills, the pollutants may leach into soil or ground water. If the leaves are used for mulch or compost (in the case of evergreens; leaves stay on the tree but are cleaned by rainfall), the soil eventually gets the pollutants back again. What's more, some trees cannot withstand air pollution and will die or suffer chronic stress. The message? Give trees a break. Don't ask them to clean a mess that was avoidable in the first place.



Already the forests in our cities contribute a lot to our lives, physically, aesthetically, emotionally, and spiritually. Everybody has a tree story in their past. If we now contribute a little extra energy to them, they'll give us even more.

Trees shade and cool our streets and buildings, creating beautiful green towers to soften the harsh urban environment. A big tree can provide a day's oxygen for up to four people. Trees contribute to a community's sense of place. They increase property value. They provide fruit. They give us beautiful shapes, flowers, fall colors, and scents, and they provide homes for birds (who sweeten the air with their voices), butterflies, squirrels, and other wildlife. Their flowers are a food source for bees, and their branches hold many a tree house. In colder climates, trees can help insulate homes from cold winds as well. Trees catch rainfall, slow storm runoff, and prevent soil erosion. (See Chapter 2 for a complete list of the benefits of trees.)

Not so obvious are the emotional and healing benefits to people. A study at a hospital in Pennsylvania revealed that surgical patients whose rooms had a view of trees and greenery took fewer painkillers and recovered quicker than those whose windows faced a brick wall. Is there any doubt that an abundance of trees in the city makes it a saner place and keeps its residents a little more balanced?


The entire urban forest canopy plays a leading role in cooling our cities and keeping our energy costs down by breaking up heat islands, thereby lowering peak summer temperatures by five to nine degrees. A heat island, primarily an urban phenomenon, is an area of exposed, heat-absorbing surfaces, such as tarmac and concrete, that without tree cover absorb the sun's energy and radiate it back as tremendous heat. They can be found all over the city—in our parking lots, streets, and buildings.


Mental Tarzan
As you begin to know trees by name, you'll almost unconsciously start labeling them as you walk or drive through the city. Your attention will be drawn to them rather than to the urban hardscape. Ultimately, you may find yourself mentally swinging from tree to tree like Tarzan in the urban jungle.


According to research conducted since 1988 at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory (LBL), proper planting and shading of these urban surfaces can achieve an energy saving of up to 50 percent of the electricity used for summer air conditioning. Used in this way, an urban tree becomes an effective machine for combating global warming and cutting utility costs. Hashem Akbari and Arthur Rosenfeld, researchers at LBL, report that one urban tree does the job of between ten and fifteen rural forest trees in keeping greenhouse gases from the air.

Just as global warming and the hole in the ozone layer are linked, so too are trees in their ability to combat these environmental ills. The shade produced by trees on city streets and campuses can help shield us from harmful ultraviolet rays, which are more prevalent without the protective ozone layer.


Exploiter vs. Exploited
"You're from Los Angeles, huh? (Sympathetic sigh.) Oh, they really need you down there. You know, our son went down there; he built three shopping centers, and we were ready to go down and see the job he'd done. Suddenly we had a call from him saying he was coming back to Spokane; said there were no trees down there and too much traffic and congestion and people and buildings and . . . well, the trouble is, you lose hope in a city like that. It doesn't seem like anyone can affect anything at all. . . . Now he's building houses in Spokane."


Imagine the earth is a ball you're holding in the palm of your hand. Look at its precious resources: clean air, clean water, energy, abundant food, animal life. Notice that all the elements on the earth seem to coexist in a state of balance. This rule applies not just to the whole but to its parts. The forest ecosystem in its natural state is a perfect example of nature in balance.

This state of balance is actually a dynamic set of processes that make up cycles. In natural ecosystems, everything—energy, information, nutrients, water—flows in a cycle.

Let's follow an energy cycle. Plants grow using energy from the sun, carbon dioxide from the air, and nutrients from the soil. During photosynthesis, plants transform the sun's energy into biomass: leaves, stems, and wood. Anything that falls to the ground, be it leaves, broken branches, or the plant or tree itself when its life is through, decomposes and returns the energy to the soil, making it available for the growth of other plants. One simple and complete cycle.

The cycle expands to include the animal kingdom, which consumes the food the earth produces. Animals—humans included—are a part of the bigger cycle. We eat plants, convert and use some of the plant energy, and then, through elimination or death, pass the remainder of that energy back to the earth to be used as fertilizer for the growth of more plants. Another complete cycle.

If a cycle is broken, the energy is diffused. For instance, during a forest fire, heat, carbon dioxide, and smoke are produced as waste products. That waste, or diffusion, is what scientists define as pollution.

For millions of years, humans were able to live on the earth as a part of natural cycles and systems. Whatever damage or disruptions people caused could be handled by nature. As technology advanced, people learned how to manipulate the environment and to disrupt cycles permanently.

Instead of recycling the energy we use back into nature, we break the cycle and think we can throw away that energy. Our waste becomes pollution: sewage fouling rivers, lakes, and oceans; litter making our common land look like a trash can; and garbage filling our canyons and turning them into ever increasing and harder-to-reach landfills. The level of pollution—poison—has risen to the point where it is affecting our health and killing off forests and animals.

Human energy has more than just a physical presence. We also express and recycle our energy in the form of love, service, art, dance, prayer, and so on. Likewise, wasted human energy is represented by more than just physical pollution. We feel boredom, frustration, anger, alienation, depression, and pain. Until recently, our physical pollution has been out of sight and therefore out of mind—flushed or buried from view. On the nonphysical plane, ridding ourselves of our deep boredom, anger, or pain has required sophisticated distractions, such as harmless spectator sports or, more drastically, gang activity and drug abuse. No wonder we're an addicted society!

Our role in the breaking of cycles began when technological advances made it possible for humans to manipulate the environment. It gained new proportions when we moved beyond villages into large cities, where a degree of anonymity could be translated into not being accountable and not counting. Aside from breaking the energy cycle on a massive scale, urban dwellers broke the negative feedback loops. As long as we could put our waste somewhere else, we didn't have to face the damage it was causing and so didn't change our behavior.

Now that we see a crisis before us, both environmentally and socially, we have a chance to get back in touch with our personal power and responsibility to change our ways. Imagine what can happen when that human energy is focused! The answer doesn't lie out there. There will never be enough money to hire teams to clean up the planet for us, any more than there will be enough money to rid us of the scourge of drugs. The answer lies in mobilizing every single one of us to heal—not as a punishment, but as a powerful gift to ourselves. Tending our own mess, like tending our own trees, is a continuing discipline. As with most messes, once we get involved in cleaning up, we can appreciate the need for prevention.

Humans are the only creatures capable of comprehending and relinking the earth's cycles. From an ecological perspective, we do have a role to play above enjoying ourselves, consuming the earth's resources, and destroying its life-support systems. Consequently, the three Rs many of us remember from childhood have become the four Rs for the nineties: reduce, reuse, recycle, and replant.


Look at the number of possible players in the urban forestry game! Just trying to find who's responsible can be a massive undertaking. Here's a starting point.

  • individual citizens
  • youth
  • politicians
  • organizations such as churches, clubs, and homeowner groups
  • government agencies such as city or urban forester; public works department; street tree, roads, or highway department; parks department; fire department; county, state, and federal forestry agencies; environmental quality department; planning, building and safety, or engineering department; and agriculture commissioner
  • citizen commissions on trees, public works, and parks
  • urban forestry professionals such as arborists, landscape architects, landscape maintenance firms, and home gardeners
  • telephone and electric utilities (for line clearance)
  • businesses
  • environmental organizations
  • the nursery industry

Lines of authority differ in every town. There are often major gaps in coverage, and many opportunities to enhance the urban forest are missed. With the rise of the profession of urban forestry, some cities are now making an effort to coordinate diverse agencies and activities. A city will benefit by having an urban-forest management system planned or in place before it takes on a major planting effort. However, take heed of Marcia Bansley of Trees Atlanta who said their planned-management system fell apart because no one could agree on a species selection list! Trying to coordinate efforts can be very hard work. There's no rule on what a system should look like, but there are a number of ideal components.

City forester: Overall program manager whose role is to integrate the work of public agencies and the private sector.

City or government agency: Has planting, management, and maintenance responsibility and funding to do it.

Ordinances: Some ordinances protect trees or prescribe minimum legal tree cover in, for instance, commercial parking lots. Others may mandate certain densities of plantings with development projects or percentage of sun required on city streets. Some city ordinances even mandate tree-pruning standards and require certification of tree care professionals. (Contact the American Forestry Association, TreeNet, or the International Society of Arboriculture for information. See Resources.)

Citizen tree commission: Holds the vision of a city forest, provides community input, and contributes to the planning and management process. Can be set up in a policy-making or advisory capacity.

Citizen action component: Includes youth involvement in planning, planting, light pruning, and care; advocacy; and the contributions of citizens through environmental or community-service private nonprofit groups.

Public education: Handled by public or private sector.

Neighborhood-level outreach, organizing, training, and action: Best handled by a private organization.

Tree inventory: Organized list of all trees on public lands. Should include maintenance history and prescribed policy and schedule for maintenance and replacement.

Tree or forest master plan: A planning document that guides selection of species, planting styles, sizes, and formats. Could include special neighborhood identities. The creation of this document can be a profound process for building community involvement and commitment.

Just how these components come together can be tailored to the needs, resources, size, and spirit of a given community. Depending on the players, much can be the responsibility of local government or a local nonprofit.


Current Emission of C02 by Source 

Fossil fuel combustion Deforestation
Cement production

Top Three Sources

Fossil fuel combustion

1. United States
3. China


1. Brazil
2. Indonesia
3. Colombia

Cement production

1. China
3. Japan


Carbon dioxide (CO2) and other gases form a natural shield in the earth's atmosphere and behave in a similar way to the glass in a greenhouse. The sun's rays penetrate the shield, hit the earth, and are reflected as longer-wave heat. The shield then traps some of the reflected heat that would otherwise radiate into space.

This process is a natural phenomenon. Without this greenhouse effect, global temperatures would be sixty degrees (Fahrenheit) cooler—unlivable for us. However, with the overabundance of greenhouse gases, which include water vapor, methane, and nitrous oxide, as well as carbon dioxide, the natural blanket surrounding the earth is thickening and, as a consequence, global temperatures are rising slowly but dangerously.

We are losing tropical rain forests—the lungs of the earth that along with other plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen—at an alarming rate. An area roughly the size of a football field is cut down and burned every second; an area the size of a city block is cut down every minute. We're not only losing the forests' ability to absorb and store carbon but are also releasing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere during the slash-and-burn process.

World energy use is the main contributor to increased atmospheric CO2. Conservative estimates say that each year we burn enough fuel to release nearly six billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air. The United States, with only one-twentieth of the world's population, produces nearly one-quarter of the annual global CO2 from burning fossil fuels.

The 1980s have witnessed the four hottest years this century, with 1988 being the warmest year on record. Present global temperatures are the highest since mankind has been keeping records. The rate of global warming in the past two decades is higher than at any earlier recorded time. Moreover, in addition to destroying the ozone layer, which protects the earth from the sun's ultraviolet rays, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)—widely used in aerosols, refrigerators, air conditioners, and foam packaging—are responsible for 15 to 20 percent of the global warming phenomenon.


Thousands line a major boulevard in teams of four to ten people, removing concrete from neatly trimmed, square holes cut in the sidewalk. They dig, measure, determine the sun's direction to enable them to orient the tree's limbs, and mix soil amendments and nutrients into the native dirt.

When the preparation is done, they assemble around a waiting tree. They move it toward a hole, and while some support its branches, others quickly and gently remove the pot from the tree's rootball. All help lower the tree into its new home, steadying it while the hole is filled. The soil is packed in, and stakes are pounded into position on either side. The people use special rubber ties to secure the tree between the stakes—loose enough to allow the tree to sway in the wind and build its own trunk strength, but tight enough to provide protection from a host of urban stresses it will encounter in its first, most vulnerable years.

Then the final touches. While some sweep and clean up the surrounding area, others fashion a basin around the tree's base using surplus soil from the hole. The team gathers to inspect the work for quality. They take turns pouring buckets of water into the basin. To complete their work, they dedicate the tree by giving it a name, which they write on a small strip of bumper sticker material. They sign their names to another sticker, then affix both stickers to the stakes. Before moving on to the next tree, they commit to plans for watching over and caring for this one. Stepping back, one can see the boulevard in the midst of a profound transformation. As teams complete their planting, they polish the job by collecting and recycling litter, and sweeping the sidewalks. Tomorrow they'll be back to paint out the graffiti.

Down the road at the shoe warehouse, on company time before the lunch break, employees are pruning and weeding the trees they planted eighteen months before around their parking lot. Some of the faster-growing species they selected are already beginning to shade the building and reduce air-conditioning needs and every day the early birds get the pick of the cool, shaded parking spaces. The employees then sit down to enjoy lunch in the scented herb-and-fern-garden picnic area they created just off the parking lot.

The bell rings. It's the end of another school day. Students flow out of the classroom doors. While most leave, a couple go to the bicycle compound. Mounted on specially engineered forest-care bikes, they ride to the boulevards and business districts in their assigned territory. One student checks with a local shopkeeper before hooking up a hose and filling the fifty gallon tank on his bike. He adds some nutrient concentrate and pedals up the sidewalk to feed and-water the trees. Another loosens tree ties that are beginning to strangle their charges and prunes suckers that have sprouted. She then rides to the neighborhood compost station to deposit the prunings before riding home.

On another day, students are making preparations for future forests that will shelter their schools and surrounding communities. Working with neighbors and local businesspeople, they survey streets, parking lots, and open spaces to determine the number and species of trees required to form a green canopy. They receive guidance from city foresters and planners and will ultimately gather the whole community to shape their collective dreams into action plans.

They plan to collect funds, materials, and supplies to plant seeds, transplant seedlings and then raise thousands of trees in nurseries built in school yards. Students will spend a portion of every day working in the nursery and caring for the larger trees they've planted around their campuses and communities.


Street Trees Bear Fruit
It's not common, but in Coral Gables, Florida, the avocados that line some streets are tended by civic and church groups who glean and distribute the fruit to the needy. The trees are well mulched to prevent the avocados from splattering if they fall. From 1980 to 1985, Massachusetts had a state-mandated fruition program that also relied on gleaning groups to keep the trees clean. However, a city in California just removed its fruit-bearing street trees because citizens (adjacent owners) weren't harvesting or cleaning up the fruit that had dropped and become a hazard. If you can provide solutions to the problems your city might face, this fruity idea bears thinking about!


On Sunday after the service, several families gather to harvest peaches, plums, and apricots from the trees they planted in the community orchard at their church. They each take their share, then deliver the remainder to a local food bank for distribution to clients. Just a month before, this part of town held its annual Jacaranda Festival to celebrate the brilliant display of the purple-flowered theme tree planted by residents along the length of the streets in a square-mile block. The festival attracts tourists from around the country, drawn to the town not only by the beautiful floral display but also by the general aesthetic quality and high standard of care of its well-planted streets.

This is not Ecotopia nor even a futuristic community-living complex in Scandinavia. It's what is possible in cities throughout the United States and the world as citizens take back their power and begin to take responsibility for the urban environment.

The sky's the limit in this urban forest. The number of trees lining highways and freeways, in parks, parking lots, streets, school yards, and private homes can be increased dramatically.


Trees For Life
Balbir Mathur says he is simply an observer of miracles. Since 1983, his organization, Trees For Life, has planted more than one and a half million trees in India. "Trees For Life is not really about planting trees but about regenerating the spirit of people," he says. Trees For Life was the result of a childhood promise Mathur made to the generous lemon tree in his back yard: to plant thousands more like it so that others could enjoy its fruit. Although its focus is India, Trees For Life is based in Wichita, Kansas, where its Grow-A-Tree kit provides school children with fruit-tree seeds and the instructions to plant and care for them.



We know urban trees grow old and eventually die, just like rural forest trees. But why do they end up in our landfills, or simply sold as firewood, instead of being used to provide the more typical forest products we know? There are inspiring examples in Northeastern cities where tree trimmings are recycled as mulch. And now with the advent of portable, mini sawmills, urban trees can be turned into usable wood and lumber. A mill can be pulled with a pickup truck right to the site of a cut or fallen tree, or can be used in a municipal equipment yard where trunks and debris are hauled. Lumber from these mills, some of which are almost fully automated, can be used for furniture, crafts, toys, and small construction projects.

The lumber from a city-owned mill could be made available to inner-city high-school and junior-college wood shops and carpentry-training programs. In Los Angeles city schools, students must pay for the wood they use for projects in shop classes. One inner-city wood-shop teacher at Jordan High School, upon receiving an award for his outstanding work with students, commented that if he could only be given enough wood for student projects, he could keep them all out of gangs and off the streets! This wood could help develop carpentry and job skills, as well as supporting cottage industries for small crafts.

Recycling urban wood is not just an opportunistic idea. Can you imagine growing trees on abandoned urban land parcels with the specific intent of selectively harvesting the wood and replanting the crop? Think of the places, such as along highways and freeways, where trees could be doing double duty!

In Oslo, Norway, some of the parks are also well-managed, lumber-producing forests. People play and ski in them, but the city foresters also harvest mature trees and sell them for lumber. The true value of this program lies not with the wood harvested but the example of sustainable forestry that's set and the reminder to urban dwellers that we should be able to protect far off, unseen tropical hardwoods.


As our cities continue to sprawl, the increase in paved areas causes enormous runoff, erosion, and storm-water problems. Instead of rainwater being caught and slowed by trees and shrubs and slowly percolating into the ground, rainwater hits asphalt, concrete, or bare, compacted ground with full impact and rushes off wherever gravity takes it.

Most cities have developed complex and expensive flood-control systems to carry away the resulting runoff. Once done effectively, continued urbanization now threatens to outstrip the ability of the flood-control system to handle the runoff. In Los Angeles, the Army Corps of Engineers is in the midst of planning an emergency project to raise by ten feet the walls of the Los Angeles River and the bridges that cross it. The Corps has determined that, because of increased paving and construction, major portions of the city will be threatened during a one-hundred-year flood (or greater), because the Los Angeles River at its current capacity could surely overflow its banks.


Man alone of all the creatures of earth can change his own pattern. Man alone is the architect of his own destiny. 
                                                                               WILLIAM JAMES


What's more, the runoff from urban areas carries with it toxic substances, such as oil from the streets, which go on to pollute our waterways and lakes and the bays and oceans into which they feed.

The polluting of our water in this way is as tragic as the loss of the urban watershed to development. In areas like Los Angeles, where water must be imported, it's folly to send valuable rainwater to the ocean when it could be captured and used where it falls, channeled into tanks or swales (minidams) for irrigating the local urban forest. Forestry is also known as watershed management. It therefore follows that urban forestry can be used as urban watershed management, saving on importation of water and protecting waterways downstream. Proper planting and design of parking lots and sidewalks, along with the installation of devices to trap and store rainwater, can help solve the problem.


River Birch
(Betula Ogre)


Jean Giono writes of a humble shepherd named Elzeard Bouffier who lived alone in a deserted and barren region of the southern French Alps in the early part of this century. It was his opinion that the land was dying for want of trees. Confessing to no pressing business of his own, he had resolved to remedy this state of affairs. Every day, while tending his sheep, he planted acorns. When the author met him, he was growing beech trees in a nursery near his cottage and was considering birches for the valleys. Ten years later, the oaks and birches had formed a young forest. Formerly dry streams now ran with water. The wind scattered seeds and, with the water, willows, rushes, meadows, gardens, and flowers reappeared. The transformation took place so gradually it caused no astonishment other than the delight of discovery by the local administration of what appeared to be a natural forest. Thirty years later, the earlier barren landscape was unrecognizable. Along with the forest and water came a changed climate, a healthy agriculture, and a new, energetic population. One unlearned peasant, armed with a greatness of spirit and the tenacity of benevolence, had completed a work worthy of God.


Australia suffers the effects of drought regularly on a countrywide basis. Not coincidentally, it's also badly devoid of tree cover. Coastal and inland areas have been largely deforested to make pastureland for the wool and cattle industries; Water is a precious commodity. In most semirural areas, mains water is way too expensive for anything but drinking. In extreme circumstances it has to be trucked in. Many households—even in the suburbs—collect rainwater for their own use. Australians are conscious of the value of water and use a variety of simple rooftop collection systems to supply themselves with drinking and bathing water, as well as water for animals and irrigation.


Whether you put a ficus in a pot in your living room or launch a grass-roots action group in your city, your energy, inspiration, love, creativity, time, talent, resources, and your concern for this earth are crucial right now. The need is clear. The way forward is simple but certainly not easy.

In Los Angeles, a Citizen Forester is a person who has taken very specific TreePeople training. Citizen Forester is a term trademarked by TreePeople. It is used to represent an individual citizen who is volunteering to serve the community. The term is specific and is in no way meant to imply possession of professional forestry skills or license to practice professional forestry. TreePeople expects its graduates to join in the task of fostering environmental stewardship in the community, and the organization is committed to that task. Reading this book is a different matter. We don't have your name and address, and no one is there to cajole you to pick up a shovel. In this book the term citizen forester is used in a broader sense. Here are a few examples, from the simplest to the most gung-ho, of what might happen to you as a result of reading this book.

The Backyard Forester

People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. And people in any sort of house with land around it should start their planting right outside their door. It's the simplest way to start. It will involve you in the wonderful discovery of your favorite trees, and you won't have to deal with permits, volunteers, fund raising, publicity, or any of the other things that can sometimes stump even the most fervent planter. But you will learn what it takes both to plant and care for trees.

Your own home, or a nearby vacant lot, can provide you with tons of opportunity to create a highly diversified and intensive urban-forest microenvironment. You can turn your yard into a wildlife or bird refuge—the National Wildlife Federation has a special program to encourage exactly that—or create an orchard that produces a surplus to share with food banks.

Don't discount this idea if you're a renter. Not all landlords will pay for your garden improvements, but many will welcome your work. They may ultimately benefit, but you're the first beneficiary, and approaching life with a giving spirit invariably sets you up to receive at least as much as you give.

The Multiunit Forester

Whether it's patios, common areas, window boxes, terraces, rooftops, outside the parking garages, or around the building itself, there are plenty of areas with landscape potential around apartments and condominiums. With the permission of the owners, it's possible to cut concrete to make room for planting. Obviously a little less satisfying, but also less threatening, is to use containers, such as pots, boxes, and large planters.

The Neighborhood Forester

Once you've done the work for yourself and your family, think about moving beyond your own property to take on the role of creating community around tree planting. Having learned the basics, you can help get your neighbors started in planning, planting, or in taking extra care of the trees around their homes.

It will depend on the layout of your properties, but you might want to coordinate the planting of a particular species right inside the property line, all the way along the street. Whether you aim to line your street with trees, or populate your neighborhood with a tree species that will attract specific birds, there are many opportunities for action.

The Scout

At some point, it's a good idea to inventory the needs and resources that exist in your area. Look out for vacant lots, parking lots, graffiti-covered walls, traffic islands—neighborhood eyesores. City hall likely has no clue about the specific blights or needs of your community.


Scouts Honor
Scouts love merit badges. It's only logical that when a scout learns the terms and principles of urban forestry and carries out a tree-planting-and-care project, he or she should be honored with a badge. In the early 1980s TreePeople worked with the Angelus Girl Scout Council to develop Urban Forestry Merit Badges. Hundreds of girls participated in an educational program with TreePeople, then went on to work with the Los Angeles County Forester and Fire Warden to plant a special grove in an inner-city regional park. Completion of both phases of the program earned each scout a special urban-forestry badge. Senior scouts, too, commonly take on special projects with TreePeople to earn their final title of Eagle Scout.


The Citizen Pruner

In New York, Citizen Pruners are trained by the Street Tree Consortium and certified by the city to carry an ID card that authorizes them to prune trees whenever and wherever needed and to liberate trees girdled by tight support wires.

Perhaps you can create something similar. Bone up on pruning techniques (see Chapter 7 and Resources or sit in on a nursery demonstration or community-college class) and begin with your trees and with your neighbors' trees—with permission, of course, or on request. Carry with you wire cutters and pruning shears. Where you can't assist a needy tree, or if you don't feel your work would be appreciated, carry a notepad so that you can mail in problem reports to the proper authority. We don't encourage vigilante action. However, if your local agency is overburdened, it may welcome responsible maintenance action on the part of trained citizens. What's more, all agencies appreciate hearing about disease and pest problems so they can head off a potentially deadly infestation before it takes hold.

The Citizen Activist

Get involved in local politics. Sit on a tree board, work with your city to create or enhance a professional urban-forestry management program, be a guardian of your forest by watching out for inappropriate tree removal or bad pruning techniques. Help organize a way to protect them. One long-time TreePeople volunteer digs in the city's capital-improvement plans, discovers where street widening (and tree removal) is proposed, and notifies neighbors so that they can respond accordingly. He also pays close attention to notices of public hearings, spreads the word about them, and attends to speak on behalf of the trees. He is one man operating alone. In Seattle, one woman has formed an organization called Plant Amnesty "to end the senseless torture and mutilation of trees and shrubs that many people incorrectly refer to as pruning." With a sense of humor- but a serious mission, Plant Amnesty delights in telling bad horticultural jokes and tales of hope and horror. Remember, angels can fly because they take themselves lightly!


Tree Huggers
When commercial loggers began large scale felling of trees near Reni in northern India, their chainsaws were slicing through the very roots of local society and threatening the livelihoods of local communities. In an astonishing display of courage and determination, the women of Reni wrapped their arms around the trees to protect them from felling, sparking off the Chipko Andolan movement (the "movement to hug"). Eventually, following an inquiry, the government declared 12,000 square kilometers of the sensitive watershed region of the Alakananda basin off-limits to loggers. Today, the Chipko movement runs reforestation programs in other villages where livelihoods are threatened.

The ReLeaf Coordinator

Once you've been doing this for a while, you may be ready for the big league. New groups are popping up all the time, responding to their founders' inner calls and to the growing need for citizen involvement in urban environmental healing. The American Forestry Association is running a campaign called Global ReLeaf and provides guidelines for new local groups. There's a lot of support out there. There are also many other people with great ideas.

Sooner or later you'll bump into someone in your city who's in the same situation or, maybe even better, has already got something together on a bigger scale. Perhaps your city already has a tree-planting organization, or an urban forester. (If so, put this book down now and go work with them!) Try not to act too much like the newly converted around the old salts. Your role may be as facilitator or problem solver. Perhaps you'll be a leader or simply a planter. Maybe the most important thing you can do will be to put forth your ideas and get out of the way. Look to nature for guidance. There's room for a wide variety of ideas. They don't have to compete. Diversity is the strength of the forest. Cooperation is the key. Have fun!


In the summer of 1988 the American Forestry Association and TreePeople sat around a conference table in Washington, D.C., to discuss how the American people could be moved to take a stand against the growing gloom of global warming. The result of that meeting (and an inordinate amount of research, coordination, and fund raising on the part of Neil Sampson and Gary Moll) was the launch of Global ReLeaf, a national campaign to encourage the planting of 100 million trees in U.S. cities by 1992. Recognizing the essential role of community groups in the realization of the goal, AFA has built a network of local and regional organizations under the ReLeaf banner, providing fledgling groups with information on how to get started and acting as a clearinghouse to link individuals with their nearest organization. (See Resources.)