Urban Forests and the Farm Bill
American Forests is pleased to be a member of The Sustainable Urban Forests Coalition — a diverse group of community nonprofits, national associations, arborists, foresters and other professionals who work together to monitor, care and advocate for urban trees and green infrastructure — on efforts to strengthen urban forestry through the 2012 Farm Bill. Major legislative provisions governing urban forestry were initially passed in the 1990 Farm Bill as part of the firstever Forestry Title. These provisions — Section 9 of the Cooperative Forestry Assistance Act — have not been significantly changed for more than 20 years. Policy debate over the Farm Bill, which occurs about every five years, is a key opportunity to update these provisions.
Urban areas have been growing rapidly, becoming home to an ever-greater portion of our nation’s population. Policymakers have become increasingly aware that urban forests are critical to the health and livability of our cities. New proposals in Congress have recognized the value and importance of urban forests and green infrastructure for a variety of benefits, including reduced energy use, improved water and air quality, diversified wildlife habitat and increased human health. In addition, research has recognized that urban forests promote green industries, which have an estimated annual economic impact of $147.8 billion, providing tens of thousands of new jobs as arborists, urban foresters, landscape designers and more.
Given this growing interest in urban forests, it is important that policymakers recognize the unique and essential role of the USDA Forest Service among federal agencies. As stated in a Farm Bill paper by the Sustainable Urban Forests Coalition, “With its unparalleled research capacity and its strong network of public and private partnerships, the Forest Service can play an even more significant role to help focus and promote efficient federal investment in creating and maintaining healthy urban forests and green infrastructure.” For example, with support and expertise from state forestry agencies and local and national non-governmental organizations, the Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry Program in 2010 delivered technical, financial, educational and research assistance to more than 7,000 communities in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, U.S. territories and affiliated Pacific Island nations, reaching a total of 177 million people. The program leveraged an additional $40 million in state and local support and provided 1,250 small grants to local communities.
During 2012 — and perhaps beyond, depending on the pace of congressional action in an election year — American Forests will be working with other members of the Sustainable Urban Forests Coalition to build support for the recommendations that we have developed for the 2012 Farm Bill:
Recommendation #1: Encourage interagency coordination to protect urban-forest health. By breaking down restrictive agency boundaries and facilitating multi-agency coordination and collaboration, the next Farm Bill can help federal, regional and local agencies more effectively and efficiently implement cost-saving and sustainable infrastructure in all communities.
Recommendation #2: Address issues at the landscape level and promote urban forests and trees as green infrastructure. No ecological boundaries separate urban, community and rural forests. Pests, disease and invasives species spread easily from city to suburb to village to rural forests. Likewise, rural and urban forests play vital, indivisible roles in delivering clean water to communities, and they provide fiscally sound solutions to stormwater management, water storage, groundwater recharge, pollutant reduction and wildlife habitat. We support the establishment of formal mechanisms for coordination among urban and rural programs and projects that restore, maintain and protect watershed health.
Recommendation #3: Provide research, tools and resources that support local initiatives, minimizing overall costs and maximizing impacts for every dollar invested. Congress should ensure that the USDA Forest Service places a high priority on urban-forest research that develops best-management practices as well as technical tools and information to assist local partners, including state and local agencies, private companies, nonprofit organizations and private citizens. The right tools help local policymakers establish priorities and direct resources and help assure more efficient use of federal funds.
Through these recommendations, we hope the 2012 Farm Bill will be a strong catalyst for the future of sustainable urban forests.
Learn more about our work with urban forests.