Urban Forests in the 21st Century

Birmingham, Alabama

Birmingham, Alabama. Credit: Bill Blevins/Flickr

In 2001, American Forests kicked off that year’s National Urban Forestry Conference with the release of a study, “Gray to Green: Reversing the National Urban Tree Deficit,” revealing that an estimated 634.4 million trees were missing in America’s urban areas due to development and other factors. More than a decade later, the U.S. Forest Service released a new study revealing that urban forests in the U.S. are declining by four million trees each year,[1] which is why cooperative efforts around urban forests are more important now than ever.

The U.S. Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry Program brought together a group of organizations and agencies, including American Forests, in 2004 to discuss issues facing urban and community forestry. This initial meeting led to the creation of the Sustainable Urban Forests Coalition in 2005, whose goal is to create greener, healthier communities.[2] Today, the Sustainable Urban Forests Coalition, of which American Forests is a member of the steering committee, is a group of diverse national organizations and professionals — city managers, nursery and landscape professionals, national and community non-profits, urban planners, public works professionals, arborists, utility professionals, foresters, water quality experts and various associations — working together to advocate for the care and monitoring of urban forests and green infrastructure.

Middlebury College, Vermont

Middlebury College, Vermont. Credit: Bosc d’Anjou/Flickr

Building off the work begun with CITYgreen, the U.S. Forest Service and The Davey Tree Expert Company developed a new analysis tool for urban forest measurement, i-Tree, in 2006. The tool uses remote sensing data to model the ecological and economic benefits of urban trees and forests for ecosystem services such as removing airborne pollutants, reducing greenhouse gases and regulating stormwater. In 2010, American Forests discontinued updates to its CITYgreen software.

In 2011, the U.S. Forest Service, in partnership with the New York Restoration Project, released 12 recommendations from its Vibrant Cities & Urban Forests: A National Call to Action task force. This task force was convened to “explore the implications of integrated natural and built urban environments and their possibilities for the future.”[3]

That same year, American Forests partnered with the U.S. Forest Service on a grant designed to increase awareness of the value of sustainable urban forests, which is part of American Forests ongoing work to raise awareness about the vital benefits our urban forests provide and the science-based tools that are out there to best assess those benefits.

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[1] U.S. Forest Service. News Release. Study: Nation’s Urban Forests Losing Ground. http://www.fs.fed.us/news/2012/releases/02/urban-forests.shtml (accessed Oct. 22, 2012).
[2] Sustainable Urban Forests Coalition. About. Sustainable Urban Forests Coalition History. http://www.urbanforestcoalition.com/about/about_history.aspx#SUFCHistory (accessed Oct. 22, 2012).
[3] Vibrant Cities & Urban Forests: A National Call to Action. http://issuu.com/vibrantcities/docs/vibrantcitiesreport (accessed Oct. 22, 2012).

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