Partnering for Healthier Cities
Last week, I attended the 2012 Partners in Community Forestry National Conference in Sacramento, Calif. This conference is all about making connections — including connecting with the community forestry network and sharing information about what is happening with community forestry around the country. With more than 500 attendees — ranging from urban foresters, arborists and utilities to nonprofits, state and federal governments and even a mayor — there was a lot to learn and a lot to share.
To start off the conference, Dr. Dave Nowak, project leader at the U.S. Forest Service Northern Research Station and a member of the American Forests Science Advisory Board, spoke about our changing urban landscapes. With our nation losing four million urban trees per year, he emphasized that understanding how and why urban forests are changing can guide management to help sustain healthy urban forests. He emphasized that not only is it important to “plant the right species in the right place,” but also to plant them at the “right time.” For example, our decisions should consider factors that might affect timing, such as climatic conditions or invasive pests and diseases.
Later on in the conference, Dr. Geoffrey Donovan, research forester at the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station, discussed recent studies that quantify a broad range of urban-tree benefits, including their effect on public health. For example, a study he did in 2011 looked at the relationship between urban tree cover and healthier babies. The study found that canopy cover within 50 meters of a house reduced the risk of a baby being born underweight and that proximity to private open space also reduces this risk. To read more about this study, click here. While he admits that some correlations like these do leave gaps in knowledge, they tell excellent stories. And, when similar studies around the world continue to tell similar stories, he suggests that policymakers just might be underestimating the scope and magnitude of urban-tree benefits.
So many great presentations, so little time. I also sat in on a discussion on tree canopy assessments and saw a presentation on what is needed to improve emergency operations for storm responses in the urban forests. Additionally, I went on an afternoon field trip to explore native restoration along the Golden State Highway, where we saw a levee improvement project, a utility easement project and a wildlife refuge along the Pacific Flyaway.
Along with learning so much about the work that others are doing across the country, I was thrilled that we had an opportunity to share some of the work that we have been doing. On the last morning of the conference, our CEO, Scott Steen, presented the results of a year-long initiative in our urban forests program — our Urban Forests Case Studies. (Check out Scott’s Loose Leaf post on the studies, here.) These case studies feature 12 cities across the U.S. and what they are doing to create healthier, greener cities. If you haven’t seen them yet, you should check them out here — your city might just be featured!
The conference last week was full of great information, wonderful networking opportunities and inspiration. There is nothing quite like being in a crowd of more than 500 people talking about urban forests with individuals who are so passionate about the work that they do.