With shifting environmental conditions, cities are recognizing the important role trees play in creating a robust urban forest that is capable of reducing surface temperatures, improving air quality, conserving energy, and increasing quality of life, amongst many other benefits. A sustainable urban forest must contain healthy, well maintained trees with high species and age diversity. Creating such an urban forest is complicated and best completed through a focused strategic planning and implementation process facilitated with the urban forest management plan (UFMP) process.
The goal of a UFMP is to create a sustainable urban forest that optimizes tree benefits while meeting established safety and economic goals. These factors will help grow an urban forest that is resilient to pests and diseases, drought conditions, and extreme weather patterns. Dudek’s urban forestry team outlines five steps to meet these goals and facilitate a successful UFMP process.
- Form the team
- Analyze the Current Condition
- Engage the Community
- Create the Plan
- Implement Your Living Document
Form the Team
The first step is to thoroughly identify all key city staff, elected officials, and community stakeholders who have a role or voice in the management of the urban forest. This group is critical to the formulation of the vision and goals for the UFMP, as they provide valuable insight into the values of the City and community, and inner workings of the City tree management. Typical teams comprise the City urban forester, City planners, local community based organizations, and representatives for the Mayor or Councilmembers.
Analyze the Current Condition
Successful UFMP implementation and success measurement rely on gaining a comprehensive understanding of the urban forest and its management practices. This is accomplished by examining the tree inventory; completing a canopy cover analysis using i-Tree or available LiDAR; reviewing city documents, guidelines, ordinances and budgets; and interviewing city staff to understand internal protocols and governance structures. Ryan Allen, Dudek urban forestry project manager said, “To plan for the future, you first have to know where you’re at. The more information you have, the better you can understand the full picture of the current condition, and create a path forward”.
Engage the Community
Having a plan that’s embraced by the community starts with meaningful engagement of residents and business owners. This can happen through working groups, online surveys, webinars, outreach meetings, and other formal and informal discussions which help shape how the UFMP reflects the values of community members and preserves neighborhood character. Michael Huff, Dudek urban forestry Principal said, “It can be challenging to get the community engaged on urban forestry topics. Most cities have a relatively small population of vocal and engaged persons who share their input; the typical resident has demonstrated low concern about urban trees. All public input is critical, so ensuring community engagement efforts reach as many of the typical residents as possible helps inform the UFMP, while simultaneously creating better tree care and higher urban forest value”.
Create the Urban Forest Management Plan
Urban forest goals are generated to move the City towards achieving its vision for the urban forest. They’re generated by interpreting the current condition analysis, incorporating city priorities and community feedback, and applying industry standards. These goals should be obtainable in the short- and long-term, and bold, where needed, to help reach your city’s vision for its urban forest. Huff said, “City urban forestry goals must be unique to each city, not based on a one-size-fits-all approach. Understanding a city’s urban forest, its strengths and weaknesses, and then tailoring objectives and actions to move the forest toward the goal levels takes time and effort, but is very important to the UFMP process.”
Implement Your Living Document
The real effort begins when your UFMP is complete. After collaboration with city staff and residents, the final draft of the UFMP will reflect the community’s core values and principles. A plan that is visually engaging and displays complex ideas simply, facilitates approval from city staff, elected officials, and community members, leading to immediate implementation upon adoption. Huff, said, “We focus on creating easily digestible UFMPs that are heavy on graphic content. Most people have little spare time to read what can be hundreds of pages of urban forestry text. That text is important, but getting the main points across in 10 to 15 minutes of a person’s time means we can positively impact more people.”
Dudek’s urban forestry team has helped numerous clients craft urban forest management-related plans, including for the City of Los Angeles (City). Dudek was contracted through City Plants, a non-profit organization running a public-private partnership with the City of Los Angeles to craft a UFMP framework document, which would serve as the first step toward the creation and implementation of a formal UFMP. Dudek’s urban forestry team completed a nearly yearlong process that took an in-depth look at the City’s urban forest management through extensive City staff and community stakeholder engagement. This included monthly working group meetings with 40+ stakeholders; an online public survey garnering 2,600 responses; comparative analysis of other major City urban forest programs; evaluation of the urban forest governance and budget compared to industry standards; and assessed urban forest policies and regulations.
Within six months after the release of Dudek’s ‘First Step to an Urban Forest Management Plan’, the City of Los Angeles took action and provided $2 million in funding toward a street tree inventory, inventory management software, and an urban forest management plan, and hired new urban forestry staff based on the key recommendations of the report. The resulting document provides a framework for the City to take prioritized steps toward creating a world class urban forest.