5 Steps to Craft a Successful Urban Forest Management Plan in 2024

Aerial view of urban forest at sunset

Urban forests play an important role in 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 a robust urban forest can be complicated for cities and municipalities and is best accomplished via a concrete urban forest management plan (UFMP), which facilitates long-term strategic planning and successful implementation.

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 cities grow an urban forest that is resilient to pests and diseases, drought conditions, and extreme weather patterns. Dudek’s Urban and Community Forestry group outlines five steps to meet these goals and facilitate successful UFMP development.

  1. Enlist the Right Stakeholders
  2. Analyze the Current Condition
  3. Engage the Community
  4. Craft the UFMP
  5. Implement your Living Document

1. Enlist the Right Stakeholders

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/or community, as well as the inner workings of the municipality’s tree management process. Typical teams comprise the city urban forester, city planners, local community-based organizations, and representatives for the mayor or council members..

2. Analyze the Current Condition

Successful UFMP implementation and effective 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”.

3. Engage the Community

Having a plan that’s embraced by the community starts with meaningfully engaging 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 and Community Forestry Practice Director said, “It can be challenging to engage the community on urban forestry topics. Most cities have a relatively small population of vocal and engaged residents who share their input, with the typical resident demonstrating 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.

4. Create the Urban Forest Management Plan

Urban forest goals help move your city or town towards achieving its vision for the urban forest. The specific goals should be 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, as well as 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 the strengths and weakness of a city’s urban forest and then tailoring objectives and actions to move the forest toward achieving its goals takes time and effort, but is very important to the UFMP process.”

5. 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. Most people have little spare time to read what can be hundreds of pages of urban forestry text. Huff said, “We focus on creating easily digestible UFMPs that are heavy on graphic content. The 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 and Community Forestry group has helped numerous municipal clients craft urban forest management-related plans, including ones 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 creating and implementing 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. Our team collaborated extensively with City staff and community stakeholder engagement, including:

  • 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
  • Assessment of urban forest policies and regulations.

Less than 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. The City also hired its first-ever Chief Forest Officer, increased urban forestry staff, and completed an urban forest finance study based on the report’s key recommendations. The resulting document provides a framework for the City to take prioritized steps toward creating a world-class urban forest.

[PROJECT SPOTLIGHT: Learn more about our industry-leading effort with City Plants and the City of Los Angeles to lay the groundwork for the development of an urban forest management plan.]

For more information on how Dudek can support your town or city in fostering a robust and sustainable urban forest through the preparation of an urban forest management plan, contact us.