Denver – Protecting Denver’s Urban Forest

The Forestry Division in Denver Parks and Recreation is comprised of three primary work units: operations, which is responsible for the care and maintenance of the trees within the parks system; inspections, which is responsible for monitoring right-of-way trees for public safety concerns and notifying homeowners when the trees are in violation, since the city’s tree ordinance assigns responsibility for right-of-way trees to the adjacent homeowner; and education and outreach, which conducts research, promotes the benefits of the urban forest and engages with the community. Unlike operations and inspections, which are funded through the city budget, the Forestry Division’s education and outreach work is mostly grant and fundraising supported.

“Education and outreach often functions like a nonprofit even though it’s housed in the city system,” says Sara Davis of The Mile High Million, which is part of education and outreach. Adds Rob Davis, “We’ve had some big opportunities with large amounts of money that carried over for a period of time. We’re coming up to some interesting times now, where it’s a question of if we can make that happen again. We’re hopeful that people continue to recognize what trees can do.”

As the main organizing entity behind The Mile High Million, the Forestry Division has pursued many unique partnerships over the years. For instance, in 2009 and 2010, the program partnered with the city’s professional basketball team, the Denver Nuggets, and sponsor Swingle Lawn, Tree and Landscape Care to plant a tree for every three-point shot converted at each Denver Nuggets’ home game that season.[1] A similar relationship has formed with the Colorado Rockies. Connecting with the city’s sports teams is a desirable outlet for Rob Davis: “It lets us interact with large pieces of our community to connect them with why our urban forest is important. Denver has a large outdoor-oriented group of people, so our urban forest message fits well.”

The Pepsi Center is home to the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche. Credit: Wally Gobetz

The Pepsi Center is home to the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche. Credit: Wally Gobetz

Beyond the core functions of operations, inspections and education and outreach, the Forestry Division also works closely with many other city departments on urban forestry concerns. Two of the main departments are the Department of Public Works and the Community Planning and Development Department.

“Public Works is established as the ultimate authority over the rights of way in the city,” says city forester Rob Davis. “When Public Works is doing road projects, sidewalk projects or curb and gutter work, we try to work with them to view the trees as part of the street infrastructure.”

Forestry has a similar relationship with Community Planning and Development. One of the Forestry Division’s inspectors reviews proposals from the Community Planning and Development Department for work that might affect public trees. “There are fees we charge for our reviews. There are mitigation penalties if developers remove trees,” says Rob Davis. “There is a lot of interaction with developers to try to convince them to put in the money to include trees and landscaping in the right of way if it can improve the long-term enjoyment of that shopping or business area.”

“We’re poised to be successful in our urban forestry work,” says Sara Davis. “We have the historic trees in place. We’re starting to build the tree culture of citizens really valuing their trees and having the Community Forester program. We’re starting to quantify the environmental services for the decision makers, and we’re starting to get elected officials who are thinking in different ways.” All of these things point to a city with the foundation in place to maintain and expand its urban forest long into the 21st century.


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[1] NBA. Denver Nuggets. Denver Nuggets Tip Off NBA Green Week. (accessed Sept. 18, 2012).