Late 20th-century Urban Forestry

In their book Urban Forestry, Gene W. Grey and Frederick J. Deneke claim that the modern concept of urban forestry as a field or term was introduced at the University of Toronto in 1965. By 1968, the Citizens Advisory Committee on Recreation and Natural Beauty submitted an annual report to the president of the United States recommending that “an urban and community forestry program be created in the United States Forest Service. The program should encourage research into the problems of city trees, provide financial and technical assistance for the establishment and management of city trees and develop federal training programs for the care of city trees.” In 1972, an amendment to the Cooperative Forest Management Act of 1950 made this recommendation a reality, and that same year, the Society of State Foresters formed an Urban Forestry Working Group.[1]

Grant Park, Chicago, Illinois, whose land was officially designated as a park by the city in 1844

Grant Park, Chicago, Illinois, whose land was officially designated as a park by the city in 1844. Credit: becca_ca_ca/Flickr

In 1982, American Forests formalized its years of urban forest education, outreach and discussions with a new urban forestry program by convening the Second National Urban Forestry Conference. In an address at that conference, American Forests then-Vice President Rexford A. Resler described urban and community forestry as “the scientific and systematic management of all natural resources in and near our cities.” He challenged attendees to “work together to take our American public through the process of exposure, involvement and commitment to the urban and community forestry concept.”[2]

The 1980s were challenging years for urban and community forestry in the U.S., as difficult economic times resulted in budget reductions at federal, state and local levels. While American Forests and the National Urban Forest Council sought to advance the science and spur the growth of urban forestry, it was a fight each and every year to maintain annual funding levels. Finally, in the late 1980s, an opportunity arose with congressional leaders showing receptivity to the issues and concepts of urban forestry.

Council Hall and White Memorial Chapel, Salt Lake City, Utah, completed in 1866 and 1883 respectively

Council Hall and White Memorial Chapel, Salt Lake City, Utah, completed in 1866 and 1883 respectively. Credit: Robert Cutts/Flickr

Through the efforts of American Forests and the National Urban Forest Council, legislation was introduced in the late 1980s in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate that brought heightened awareness and a new level of bipartisan support to urban and community forestry. This legislation became the Urban and Community Forestry Program as part of the Forestry Title of the 1990 Farm Bill. At the 1991 National Urban Forestry Conference, Congressman Jim Jontz of Indiana, who sponsored the legislation in the House of Representatives, thanked Neil Sampson, then-Executive Vice President of American Forests, for working with him to conceive the idea, develop the legislation and build support for it. In his address, Jontz remarked that “citizens are doing great things around our country to cool down and green up our cities and towns. … [Urban forestry] can allow the people of our country to reclaim control over their own lives and communities, it can restore the social fabric of the places where we live, it can re-instill in us as a people our sense of a shared destiny, it can remind us of our mutual interdependence and it can unite us.”[3]

In 1995, American Forests introduced its CITYgreen software, which used Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to quantify urban ecosystem services. Over the next decade, the software would be used to evaluate the value of many cities’ urban forests.

In 1997, the U.S. Forest Service reported that 28 percent of the nation’s forests could be found in counties containing cities with more than 20,000 people.[4] However, the results of an American Forests study in the early 2000s would reveal that urban forests in the U.S. were under threat.

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[1] Grey, G.W. and Deneke, F.J. Urban Forestry; John Wiley & Sons, Inc.: New York, 1978.
[2] Resler, R.A. Urban and Community Forestry – The Process, Second National Urban Forestry Conference, Cincinnati, OH, 1982; American Forestry Association: Washington, D.C.
[3] Jontz, J. From Funding to Action — People Are the Key. Proceedings of the Fifth National Urban Forest Conference, Los Angeles, California, November 15-19, 1991; American Forestry Association, Washington, D.C.
[4] U.S. Department of Agriculture. U.S. Forest Service. U.S. Forest Facts and Historical Trends. (accessed Oct. 22, 2012).

Critical Issues